Closing arguments in a family's wrongful death and elder abuse lawsuit against the nation's largest assisted living company began Thursday with the plaintiffs' lawyer asking a jury to find the Seattle-based Emeritus Corp. liable in the death three years ago of an 82-year-old woman who had lived in its Auburn facility.
"Now is the time for you to deal with what we have watched over the past eight weeks -- the lie that has been exposed to you," attorney Lesley Ann Clement told the Sacramento Superior Court jury that has heard the case during the two-month trial. "And you know what that lie is. You've seen it, and it is your turn now to shine a light on that lie...., a scheme by Emeritus to defraud elders which causes harm to the people who trust them."
Defense attorney Bryan Reid countered that the employees at Emeritus at Auburn Hills, the facility where Joan Boice lived for three months in late 2008 before she moved out and died three months later, provided the woman with "awesome" care. He said she died of complications from Alzheimer's disease that could not be prevented.
None of the nearly 30 caregivers who were around Joan Boice in the final months of her life, at Emeritus and at the nursing home where she lived when her family moved her out of Emerald Hills, ever reported allegations of neglect to state authorities. Reid called this "powerful evidence" that Boice was not abused.
Instead, the defense lawyer argued, the plaintiffs attorneys have followed an "elder abuse formula" that seeks to ring up heavy damages with the jury in what Reid called a "bash the corporation" strategy to prejudice the panel against Emeritus. He said such arguments have nothing to do with the care that was provided to Joan Boice.
"The weeks and weeks of testimony that we have heard, and all of these things that have nothing to do with Joan Boice, are designed to play to that," Reid said. "They don't impact whether the care delivered to Joan Boice was appropriate or whether it caused her death. It's designed to put you in a biased frame of mind."
Boice lost substantial weight and contracted at least four pressure sores that contributed to her death during her three-month stay at Emerald Hills. Clement argued that she never should have been admitted into Emerald Hills in the first place and that she should have immediately been transferred to a skilled nursing facility as soon as staffers at the residential care facility discovered the potentially life-threatening pressure ulcers within a few weeks of her arrival.
Clement said the company's drive for profits motivated it to accept patients who should never have been allowed in and to keep them inside once they got there, to keep the money coming in. In the meantime, Emeritus knowingly refused to add staff or properly train its employees in order to keep its costs down, Clement argued.
Emeritus "will do whatever it takes" to improve its bottom line, Clement told the jury, even if it harms "our greatest treasures" -- older relatives who have been entrusted into the company's residential care network.
Clement asked the jury for "payback" on Emeritus, but she did not list a monetary amount today on the damages she is seeking on behalf of Boice's family. Her rebuttal to Reid's closing argument is scheduled to conclude Friday in front of Judge Judy Holzer Hersher.
The trial has been broken up into two phases, and if the jury finds Emeritus guilty of "malice, oppression and fraud," it will then proceed into the second phase that will decide punitive damages.