OCTOBER 27, 1997 VOLUME 5, NUMBER 17
By the time Frances Denton was admitted to an adult care home in 1993, the 74-year-old Phoenix woman had a variety of ailments. In addition to dementia, she suffered from congestive heart failure, pericardial effusion, mitral and aortic regurgitation, allergies, incoherence, hallucinations and incontinence. Her husband Fred chose Paradise Homes Number 4 in their hometown of Phoenix at least partly because Paradise advertised itself as "Arizona's leader in Alzheimer's Care." Paradise Homes was one of several operated by American Family Care Corporation.
Frances spent six weeks at Paradise Homes, during which she allegedly suffered numerous incidents of abuse and neglect. She fell four or five times, became dehydrated and malnourished and developed a stage four decubitus ulcer on her coccyx. At the end of her six-week stay, she was admitted to the hospital; she recuperated and was transferred to a nursing home where she lived for the last two years of her life.
Before Frances' death, husband Fred filed an action against Paradise Homes alleging negligent treatment, breach of contract, and a violation of Arizona's law prohibiting abuse, neglect and exploitation of vulnerable adults. Upon Frances' death, the defendants moved for dismissal of the abuse, neglect and exploitation claim. They argued that the claim was personal to Frances and could not be brought by her husband or other heirs. The Maricopa County Superior Court agreed with the adult care home and dismissed the claim.
At issue in the Dentons' case is whether the pain and injury caused to Frances herself could be compensated after her death. Usually, personal damages do not survive the death of the injured party, so there is substantial precedent in favor of the position taken by the adult care home. The Arizona Supreme Court, however, has now ruled that Frances Denton's claim can go forward.
To rule otherwise, says the Court, would mean that there may be no recovery at all for even outrageous cases of abuse or neglect. Since elderly victims are usually not employed, and may have medical care provided by Medicare and/or Medicaid, there may be no other damages than pain and suffering, and to allow those damages to lapse with the death of the victim would be unacceptable. It would also encourage defendants to delay settlement of litigation, waiting for the death of the victim.
As a result of the Supreme Court's ruling, Fred Denton will be permitted to pursue the claim for his wife's personal damages in her name. Denton v. Superior Court, Arizona Supreme Court, September 25, 1997.