Kathleen Glanville, a writer for The Oregonian, wrote an article about a $900,000 verdict for a resident who was treated ridiculously bad by a nursing home. The jury ruled that an 86-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s disease suffered a loss of dignity when Lake Oswego police forced her to the floor of her nursing home and handcuffed her. The jury awarded more than $900,000 to the family of the late Elvera Stephan for the way she was treated the night of April 13, 2006, at The Pearl at Kruse Way in Lake Oswego.
The jury agreed that Avamere Health Services, the corporate owner of the Alzheimer’s care center, had acted with malice or reckless indifference. Stephan’s children moved her into the Alzheimer’s care center in early April 2006 after her husband became seriously ill and was hospitalized. Within a few days she became agitated, wandering the nursing home barefoot in her pajamas, confused and, according to her caretakers, dangerously aggressive.
The staff notified a registered nurse in another part of the nursing home, who called the woman’s doctor for guidance. He said Stephan should be taken to the emergency room for evaluation and medication. The nurse called 9-1-1 to summon an ambulance, and because she told the emergency dispatcher that the patient was extremely aggressive, Lake Oswego police responded as well.
But jurors said she didn’t look dangerous on a surveillance video from the nursing home. She was gesturing with a telephone receiver but didn’t try to hit anyone with it.
Two officers forced the elderly woman to the floor, where they rolled her onto her stomach and handcuffed her hands behind her back. She remained on the floor on her stomach for six minutes until paramedics put her on a stretcher and took her to the hospital, according to Kocher. She returned to The Pearl the next day, when a nurse reported that her wrists were bruised.
A state investigator found the nursing home at fault for failing to assess the woman’s condition and intervene in a timely manner. Stephan’s son, James, testified that he didn’t learn about what had happened to his mother for six days, when he was told by the relatives of another patient at The Pearl.
The video of the police subduing the woman was played for the jury. Kocher had asked the jury to award Stephan’s family $1 million to send a message to corporations that care for Oregon’s elderly and vulnerable.
The jury agreed on $4,200 in economic damages — the cost of Stephan’s shared room for a month — and $400,000 in noneconomic damages. The jury then awarded $500,000 in punitive damages. Under state law, 60 percent of punitive damages go to the state victims assistance fund.