A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed against a Morris County assisted living facility where an 85-year-old woman was allegedly choked and knocked to the floor by a male patient and was neglected treatment for hours before dieing from her injuries five days later.
The civil complaint was filed Wednesday in Camden County Superior Court on behalf of Rita Ellinger, who moved to Arden Courts in Whippany in May 2010 after becoming afflicted with Alzheimer's, according to a statement released Thursday by attorneys, Michael S. Ringold and Barry R. Sugarman, who are handling the lawsuit.
Ellinger died on Oct. 8 2010 of "massive brain injuries directly caused by the attack," according to the lawsuit.
Ellinger moved from her longtime Little Ferry home to the Whippany facility "with the hope of living the rest of her life in a caring and, more importantly, safe and secure environment," according to the lawyers' statement.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Ellinger's niece, Luann Potere, of Clifton, seeks damages for injuries, pain, mental anguish and humiliation. The complaint also alleges the facility failed to provide professional care.
"Ms. Potere and her entire family want to ensure that what happened to their aunt will not happen to others residing in assisted living and longterm care facilities,” Sugarman said. “The facts incorporated in the complaint clearly support the assertion that there was gross negligence that contributed to this catastrophic failure to provide a safe and secure environment for Ms. Ellinger.”
According to the lawsuit, Ellinger had complained to the Arden Courts staff that she was being harassed by a male resident. The lawsuit alleges the facility's staff "knew or should have known that the aggressive resident had already attacked other residents of the facility." The lawsuit claims the staff ignored Ellinger's concerns and allegedly told her to avoid the male patient.
The male patient was allegedly observed blocking Ellinger's way before he grabbed, choked and knocked her to the floor, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit claims the facility's staff saw Ellinger's head hit the floor, but did not immediately provide medical attention. Ellinger was taken to Morristown Medical Center "several hours later" after she was found unresponsive in her room, the lawsuit claims. Ellinger died in the hospital five days later.
In addition to Arden Courts, the facility's parent company, of HCR Manor Care, of Toledo, Ohio, is named in the lawsuit. The man who allegedly committed the assault is not named in the suit.
A spokeswoman for HCR Manor Care told the Daily Record that the staff
"responded quickly to the incident and separated the residents."
Ringold and Sugarman said the incident is still pending review by the Morris County Prosecutor's Office, according to the article. Prosecutor Robert A. Bianchi confirmed the case is still being reviewed, the article said.
“This horrific tragedy was clearly preventable if the facility and its staff had fulfilled its lawful obligations to the resident," Ringold said. "What happened is inexcusable and the law provides for those responsible to be held accountable."