Cooper & Elliott Blog

A Wrongful Death Illustrates the Importance of Caring for Our Independent Seniors

Posted on Mon, Dec 7, 2015 @ 5:28 PM

Societies have long wrestled with how to best care for senior citizens, but we are truly headed into uncharted territory as the Baby Boomer generation gets old. The largest generation in American history will also be the longest-lived—and they’re approaching their retirement years. For many, this may entail finding living arrangements that will provide varying degrees of assistance.

That’s the big picture, but of course it comprises millions upon millions of individual human lives. And when you filter those personal stories—such as the wrongful death case of Dorothy Kramer*—through that larger statistical prism, one thing becomes clear: We, as a society, are going to need to make some changes.

An inexplicable, avoidable loss

Dorothy Kramer enjoyed living independently. Her housing solution was similar to that chosen by many of today’s seniors: an independent living facility, where she lived alone in her own room, and could come and go as she pleased.

One of the advantages of this facility was its emergency services. In addition to a cord in her bathroom that she could pull in case of an emergency, Dorothy was given an alarm to wear around her neck or wrist. If she were in an emergency medical situation, Dorothy could push a button and emergency medical services (EMS) would respond.

One morning, around 5:00 a.m., Dorothy pressed her emergency medical button. About fifteen minutes later, EMS personnel responded—to the wrong address. Dorothy’s alarm had been programmed incorrectly to the address across the hallway. When EMS arrived, they found that the resident across the hall didn’t need help, they deemed the call a false alarm, and left without helping Dorothy (or even knowing someone still needed help).

Later that afternoon, one of Dorothy’s daughters received a call from the facility. Dorothy wasn’t answering her door and the staff couldn’t get into her locked room. Finally, the director was able to let them in. There, they found Dorothy, who had died sitting in her chair, clutching her alarm.

Pointing fingers

Obviously, this was a terrible situation which never should have happened. To make matters worse, nobody was willing to take responsibility for the egregious mistake.

Both the independent living facility and the alarm company blamed each other for the procedural failure that led to Dorothy’s wrongful death. As part of our ongoing investigation, we’re obtaining information from the independent living facility, the alarm company, and others in order to put together a complete picture of just where the breakdown occurred.

Aftermath of a wrongful death

As might be imagined, Dorothy’s loved ones—her two daughters and her grandchildren—were in shock. How could such a tragedy occur in spite of the supposed safety measures that were in place?

Dorothy’s death caused a lot of pain for her family. Especially for her daughters—Dorothy had always been their rock, their anchor. One daughter has even had to seek medical treatment to deal with the depression that resulted from her mother’s death.

We’re determined to obtain the justice Dorothy’s family deserves. Healing from such an inexcusable loss is never a simple matter, so we’re also dedicated to providing the emotional support they need to weather these difficult times. Whether they need to talk about what they’re going through, or what Dorothy meant to them—we’re here to listen. If they simply need advice, we do our best to provide that as well.

Lessons for an aging population

Besides being frustrating and tragic, we think cases like these should serve as a wake-up call for those of us who are blessed enough to still have one or both parents in our lives.

The reality is we haven’t yet had to face the challenges involved with accommodating such a large group of aging seniors. With all of our advances in medicine, nutrition, and preventative health care, people are staying healthy and independent much longer. Many senior citizens own their own home and want to stay there as long as possible.

As Ohio wrongful death attorneys, we’ve seen numerous cases involving elderly victims, whether it involved medical malpractice, nursing home neglect, or other forms of harm, like conning a senior citizen out of her home.

We need to look out for our elderly loved ones and be vigilant on their behalf. In today’s specialized world, we’ve been conditioned to defer to the “experts,” but it’s important to remember that, when it comes to your parents, you’re likely the most informed. Ask hard, smart questions to ensure the people you’re sharing caregiving duties with are doing their jobs correctly. This holds true whether your parents are living at home, in an independent living facility, or in an assisted living community.

There’s another perspective to this as well: In the future, we will have a responsibility to our children and loved ones to allow them to care for us in our senior years. This could entail everything from recognizing and accepting when we’d be better off moving to an assisted living facility, to willingly giving up the keys to our car because we can no longer drive safely.

In terms of the nearer future, plan ahead. Make sure you have a will. Establish a health care power of attorney. Communicate with your loved ones what kind of living arrangement you want in your later years. These can be tough discussions, but avoiding them now can lead to much worse circumstances down the road.

We’re all caregivers

Growing old is one of those paradoxes of the human condition. Most of us don’t want to grow old, yet at the same time we usually want to live as long as possible—provided we’re cared for.

Dorothy Kramer’s daughters thought their mom was being well cared for, only to have their trust senselessly betrayed. Our primary goal at this point is to secure justice for her family and help them find a way to start healing. We’ll keep you updated on how they’re doing.

In the meantime, this story should serve as a reminder to us all to be watchful. We all have loved ones who are getting older, and some of us are getting older ourselves. While paid caregivers provide an admirable and invaluable service, they’re not infallible. We should all consider ourselves caregivers, and be diligent in that role. It’s our loved ones’ well-being on the line, after all—is there really too much we can do for them?

*Names in this article have been changed to protect our client’s privacy.

The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.

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