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Board-Care Home to Pay Family $700,000 in Elder Abuse Lawsuit

Verdict: The Oxnard facility is responsible for death of man, 72, as result of dehydration.

April 24, 2002|FRED ALVAREZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A jury has told an Oxnard board-and-care home to pay $700,000 to the family of a 72-year-old man, stemming from a lawsuit that accused the facility of wrongful death and elder abuse after he died of complications resulting from dehydration.

Last week's verdict against Summerville at Harbor came 21/2 years after the facility, then under different ownership, paid $2.2 million to settle a similar lawsuit.

In the most recent case, a jury voted 10 to 2 in favor of the family of Jesse Espinoza, who died in August 2000 after being housed in a room that lacked air-conditioning and where the windows barely opened.

Testimony in the six-day trial before Ventura County Superior Court Judge Barbara Lane revealed that Espinoza had been dehydrated for one to two weeks and died of renal failure, according to an attorney for the family.

The jury awarded Espinoza's four children $200,000 for wrongful death and awarded $500,000 to Espinoza's estate for his pain and suffering, said family attorney Gregory L. Johnson. The jury also awarded $15,777 to cover funeral and medical expenses.

It is believed to be the first time a Ventura County jury has awarded damages for elder abuse under a relatively new state law that provides greater protections for senior citizens, Johnson said.

A day after the verdict, attorneys for the family and the facility's owner--Summerville at Cobbco Inc.--reached a confidential settlement for punitive damages.

"The most rewarding thing is that someone, in any amount, has found that the facility has some responsibility and some accountability," said Johnson, who filed the case in December 2000 along with Oxnard attorney Jody C. Moore.

Summerville spokeswoman Laura Kislowski said, "We are saddened by the verdict. The safety and well-being of our residents is our highest priority, and in the case of Mr. Espinoza we feel appropriate care and action was taken."

The facility has been under fire before.

In 1999, the former owner, CIG Oxnard Inc., settled a lawsuit brought by survivors of a 74-year-old woman who died of pneumonia after being left for hours on her bedroom floor in a pool of vomit.

The facility was then known as Channel Islands Gardens. Summerville assumed operation in January 2000.

Johnson and Moore have another elder abuse lawsuit pending against the Oxnard facility. That suit, filed in November, alleges elder abuse and sexual battery against two elderly clients.

That lawsuit has not been set for trial, but one of the defendants pleaded guilty last year to elder abuse and was sentenced to 120 days in jail, court records said.

Johnson and Moore said last week's verdict brought a sense of comfort to Espinoza's children, who put their father in the Oxnard facility in 1995 after he was left partially paralyzed by a stroke.

"To me, the significance of the verdict is that [the jury] was willing to compensate somebody for his suffering, even though he wasn't here to explain what his suffering was about," Moore said.

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