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Jury Awards $1 In Freezing Death Of Demented Patient

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Homer Cone suffered from dementia. As a result, he was placed in a nursing home in Missouri, run by national nursing home chain Beverly Enterprises. Apparently because of his confusion, he wandered out of the nursing home one winter day, got lost and died of hypothermia.

Mr. Cone’s daughter, Barbara C. Ragle, brought an action in Missouri Federal Court against Beverly Enterprises for its alleged negligence in allowing Mr. Cone’s death. The jury in the case found that Beverly Enterprises had been negligent, but that the damages for Mr. Cone’s wrongful death should be set at $100. Furthermore, ruled the jury, Mr. Cone was himself at fault, and his failure was responsible for 99% of the loss (his own death). Consequently, the jury awarded Ms. Ragle $1 for her father’s death.

Although the notion of finding a nursing home resident liable for his own confusion may at first seem completely out of line, there was evidence of Mr. Cone’s contribution to his own dilemma. Mr. Cone and his wife Ethel (who lived with him in the nursing home) deliberately removed a security bracelet that was designed to alert nursing staff of any attempt to leave the facility.

Ms. Ragle appealed to the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that the amount of the judgment was grossly inadequate. She also argued that the jury should not have been permitted to find her father partially at fault for his own death.

Ms. Ragle first argued that the total damages of $100 were woefully inadequate. Her argument was based on the testimony of the investigating police officer responding to the emergency call on the morning of Mr. Cone’s death, coupled with the language of Mr. Cone’s death certificate (which starkly described his death as resulting from the fact that he “wandered out of nursing home in cold weather”). That, ruled the judges, was insufficient to show that the jury’s small damage award was “against the weight of the evidence”—the standard which Ms. Ragle was required to meet before a new trial could be ordered on damages.

Ms. Ragle also asked the judges to rule that a demented nursing home patient could never be responsible for his own injury or death, since he could not understand the nature or consequence of his acts. The court disagreed, however, observing that “mental infirmities exist in infinite degrees and with infinite levels and varieties of behavioral impairment.” Because of the variability of a demented patient’s level of understanding, the question of comparative fault should be left to the jury’s decision, and the Court of Appeals let stand the $1 award of damages against Beverly Enterprises. Ragle v. Beverly Enterprises, November 5, 1999.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

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Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.