PHOENIX, March 20 /PRNewswire/ -- An Arizona jury today awarded a landmark verdict of $11 million to the widow of a 36-year-old man with traumatic brain injury who died after ingesting foreign objects while in the care of Liberty Manor Residency, a Phoenix assisted living facility. The verdict included $2 million for the decedent, $5 million for the wife and $4 million in punitive damages. It was the largest verdict ever awarded against an assisted living facility in the United States.
"I want this to be a lasting victory for all individuals with TBI or other disabilities living in assisted living centers or group homes," said Lydia Scherrer, widow of Earl Scherrer, who died May 7, 2006, at the age of 36.
Earl Scherrer suffered a severe traumatic brain injury as a result of a car accident in 1996. He lapsed into a coma and was not expected to recover. Despite doctors' assessment that Mr. Scherrer's condition was permanent, Lydia Scherrer refused to disconnect her husband's life support. Earl Scherrer remained in a coma for 16 months before he began to slowly emerge. With his wife's nurturing and support, he slowly started to speak, albeit slowly. Mrs. Scherrer worked with her husband day after day, using first-and second-grade reading and math textbooks and other elementary learning tools to stimulate his brain function and coax him to reach his full potential.
Lydia Scherrer devoted many hours per week to her husband's recovery, but she also had to work and was forced to turn to assisted living and residential facilities to provide the 24-hour care her husband needed. For years, she visited him faithfully on her days off, every Tuesday and Wednesday, checking him out of the facility and taking him home.
On April 7, 2006, Mrs. Scherrer placed her husband in Liberty Manor Residency, a facility that purported to provide 24-hour supervision of its residents. One month later - on May 7, 2006 - she received a call saying her husband had been vomiting. Mrs. Scherrer rushed over to Liberty Manor, brought her husband home and gave him a bath. Within a matter of minutes, he began vomiting black matter and died in her arms.
Autopsy results showed a number of items - including plastic bags, unopened catsup packets, candy wrappers and paper towels - were found in Earl Scherrer's stomach and small intestines. The medical examiner determined these foreign objects were significant contributing factors to his death. The autopsy read in part, "hypertensive heart disease due to mechanical obstruction of the GI [gastrointestinal tract] from the foreign objects."
Lydia Scherrer, represented by Craig Knapp, of the Scottsdale law firm of Knapp & Roberts, brought claims against Liberty Manor for abuse and neglect, wrongful death and punitive damages.
At trial, it came to light that Liberty Manor made numerous false entries in its charts with respect to Earl Scherrer's care, including notations of care on days when Mrs. Scherrer had checked him out of the facility. Liberty Manor was also unable to produce Mr. Scherrer's alleged caregiver, an employee named Raul.
"Lydia Scherrer did not walk away from her husband, in life or in death," said her attorney, Craig Knapp. "Her hope is that this verdict will force the assisted living facility industry to set and meet higher standards of care for their residents, resulting in enhanced protections for the defenseless individuals trusted to the care of others.