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Nursing Home Chain Hit For $54.6 Million In Patient’s Death

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Texan Ruth Waites was 84 when she died in 1994. She had spent most of the last year of her life in the Borger Health Care Center in the small town of Borger, about fifty miles from Amarillo, Texas. At the time, the Borger Health Care Center was owned by Beverly Enterprises, Inc., of Fort Smith, Arkansas.

A month before her death, Ms. Waites was sent from the nursing home to a local hospital, suffering from dehydration. She was returned to the nursing home for 19 days before her death. Her immediate cause of death was an infection, related to serious bedsores. One bedsore, on her tailbone, was the size of a grapefruit, and reached to the bone.

After her death, Ms. Waites’ surviving relatives brought suit against Beverly Enterprises. They alleged that the company was negligent in caring for Ms. Waites. They also alleged fraud, arguing that Beverly Enterprises had concealed conditions at Borger Health Care Center.

Beverly Enterprises claimed that it was not responsible for Ms. Waites’ deteriorating condition. According to the company, Ms. Waites’ bedsores developed during her hospitalization, and were being managed by the nursing home when she died.

After a two-and-a-half-week trial a Rusk County jury decided that Beverly Enterprises was liable. The jury found that Ms. Waites’ relatives had suffered $13 million in actual damages, and that Beverly Enterprises should pay an additional $50 million in punitive damages. Based on Texas law, the judge reduced the damage award to a total of $54.6 million.

One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, David Marks from Houston, explained the jury’s award as a strong message to “an arrogant company.” He indicated that the jury “found deliberate fraud in the company’s concealing the fact that they were understaffed, had an unqualified staff and an epidemic of dehydration, pressure sores and infections.”

Meanwhile, Beverly Enterprises’ lawyer, Deanna Smith (also from Houston) insisted that the jury award was baseless, and promised an appeal. She insisted that “there is not a legal basis for a good portion of the judgment, and, factually, a good portion of the judgment is not supported by the evidence.”

Ms. Waites’ niece, 83-year-old Julia Bird Williams, was one of the plaintiffs. Ms. Williams indicated that she intended to donate a large part of her award to the National Citizens’ Coalition for Nursing Home Reform, a Washington, D.C., non-profit organization. She said she became familiar with NCCNHR’s work through their books, including one she picked up after her aunt’s death. Among other publications, NCCNHR is responsible for preparing and distributing “Nursing Homes: Getting Good Care There,” a leading national resource on nursing home care. The publication can also be ordered from American Source Books/Impact Publishers at (800) 246-7228.

In addition to donating some of the proceeds to NCCNHR, Ms. Williams indicated that she hopes to help the small church she attends. Ms. Waites taught Sunday School at the church for over fifty years. The church “was very important to my aunt,” she said.

Ms. Williams summed up her view of the litigation by claiming that “America is the only country I know of that pays people to mistreat old people. So far, I’ve been lucky enough that it hasn’t happened to me. I’m hoping that this is a wake-up call for a lot of people.”

Ironically for Beverly Enterprises, it had sold the Borger nursing home about a month after Ms. Waites’ death. The company still owns about 570 nursing homes and other health care facilities, including three nursing homes in Arizona. La Colina Health Care Center in Tucson, and Chandler Health Care Center and Shadow Mountain Health Care Center in the Phoenix area are Beverly Enterprises facilities.

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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.