According to the Times-Herald, five people face criminal charges in the fiery deaths of three Casa de Vallejo retirement home residents nearly two years ago. The five consist of owners, operators and managers of the building and have been charged with two counts of manslaughter, two counts of elder abuse causing death and one count of elder abuse. Those killed in the blaze are John Argente, 74: Robert Bennett 68: and Harold Fortune, 61. As it turns out, they all died due to the lack of an audible fire alarm system. An investigation revealed that the fire was accidentally sparked by Bennett when he fell asleep in his room with a lit cigar, while on a medical oxygen tank. Also according to the investigation, the fire system’s audible alarm had been disconnected two months before the fire, during rehabilitation work on the building. Solano County District Attorney David Paulson’s office states that there was “a complete failure of notification of the elderly and infirm residents that the building was on fire.” As a former resident of the building said: “I thought they (meaning the building owners, operators and managers) got away with murder.”
Remember that elder abuse refers to any intentional, reckless, or negligent act by a care giver or other that person that causes harm or serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult and deprives the vulnerable adult of the necessities of life, which is similar to nursing home abuse. Nursing home abuse refers to elder abuse or neglect committed in an institutional setting such as a skilled nursing facility, rest home, convalescent home, or residential facility or long term care home. People who reside in nursing homes do so because they have special care needs due to their age or medical condition, making them especially vulnerable to abuse and neglect. Sometimes, because of Alzheimer’s or dementia, they may not be able to recognize or speak-out when they are neglected or abused. Also, they may have physical limitations that prevent them from caring for themselves and are utterly dependent on nursing home staff to provide for their every need. And as mentioned in previous blogs, nursing homes sometimes underpay and overwork their staff in order to maximize profits, which may lead to a higher probability of injury or neglect of an elderly adult. In this case, it is the building owners, operators and managers who have cut corners and put the residents at risk.
Here at the Brod Law Firm, we believe one of the most important laws in California is the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection ACT. California Legislature has declared, under the Act, the intent to enable interested persons to engage attorneys to take up the case of abused elderly persons and dependent adults, as well as provide for attorneys fees and damages for pain and suffering. The Act targets institutional care givers and health care providers and aims to deter those in charge from trying to cut corners and make it expensive to risk neglecting their residents and patients. As declared in the Act, living elders, defined as adults 65 years of age and over, and dependent adults, defined as adults with disabilities, have rights to monetary compensation for their injuries. And if the elder or dependent adult is deceased, then their estate, heirs, next of kin and other family members may have rights to monetary compensation due to injuries suffered by the elder or dependent adult prior to death and for punitive damages for abuse or neglect committed with oppression, fraud or malice. Despite legislative efforts to protect elders, abuse and neglect continue. If you believe a member of your family is or was the victim of elder abuse, or if you have questions regarding the laws that pertain to nursing home abuse, please contact us.