A Conditional Settlement Helps One Family Heal

As Ohio civil litigation attorneys, our focus is always on one thing: to help our clients find justice and hold the wrongdoers accountable. That means taking the time to understand our clients’ point of view and the extent of their pain. It means digging for the facts and going beyond the obvious to uncover what’s critical.

It also means, for each case and every client, determining what constitutes genuine justice.

Money alone is rarely sufficient, especially when the case involves a wrongful death or life-altering injury. What makes someone whole after a devastating loss? Are there ways not only to compensate for damages but also open possibilities for bringing an individual or family closer to healing?

A case of mistaken location

Let’s revisit a case we first brought to your attention last year. It’s a case rapidly moving toward a final resolution. It provides a prime example of how a settlement agreement can not only compensate for a loss but begin to render meaning to a family tragedy.

The case involved the wrongful death of Dorothy Kramer*, an elderly woman who lived in an assisted-living center. One morning, alone in her apartment, Dorothy pressed the emergency pendant she wore around her neck to summon emergency medical attention. The alarm was one of the services provided by the center, and it summoned an EMS unit just as it was supposed to do.

But it failed to bring them to Dorothy.

The EMS team was directed to the wrong address, across the hall from Dorothy’s apartment. Because false alarms in these situations are not uncommon, the EMS team decided that they must have been called in error, and left the premises. No one checked on Dorothy.

She was discovered hours later—alone, sitting in a chair, still clutching the alarm that she and her family had believed would prevent her from dying unattended.

Plenty of blame to go around in wrongful death

Of course, Dorothy’s passing in this manner was a tragedy. It certainly didn’t have to happen the way it did. Safeguards had been instituted to assure that appropriate emergency medical attention would be available as needed. Yet somewhere there had been a breakdown in the system, leading to a result no one wanted.

Naturally, the Kramer family wanted answers. Why did this happen? How could this have happened? But satisfactory answers were not forthcoming, so the family came to us.

There were three main players in this drama, and instead of accepting appropriate responsibility, all three were busy pointing fingers of blame. The company that owned and operated the senior living center denied any responsibility for the failure of the alarm system to perform as promised. The company that manufactured and installed the alarm system denied any responsibility for the failure of the EMS response team to make sure it had arrived at the correct address. And the company that monitored the alarm system and sent the EMS unit denied any responsibility for the system’s failure to correctly identify Dorothy’s location.

With each of the parties refusing to accept responsibility, we filed a civil lawsuit against all three companies.

Settlement discussions have been under way with the three companies, each of which is finally beginning to cooperate. In fact, we’re nearing the point of closure and don’t anticipate this case going to trial. And here, that’s a good thing. We think a settlement—without a trial—will be in the best interest of our client because a settlement is the only way to achieve an important condition that doesn’t involve money.

Salvaging some good through a settlement

Money will always be part of the compensation for damages in a civil litigation case. But so often, that’s only the starting point. What families, victims, and survivors really need is the closure that must happen before real healing can begin. They need answers. They need meaning, drawn from the knowledge that some good can be salvaged from their loss.

In this case, the Kramer family found some additional meaning through a condition we negotiated as part of the settlement. The company that owns the senior living facility will be required to test the alarms it provides its residents. To assure enforcement of this provision, the company must produce a signed, notarized certification that the tests were completed successfully.

This provision applies not only to the facility where Dorothy lived but to all the facilities owned and operated by the company. That amounts to more than 300 facilities in 38 states.

Such a requirement is possible only when there is a settlement agreement. A jury’s scope is limited to determining responsibility and awarding suitable financial compensation. What the jury can’t do is impose a condition on any of the parties in the litigation.

A condition such as the certified testing of literally hundreds of alarm units must be agreed to by the parties involved.

It represents an extra step in the civil litigation process, one that the client’s attorney must be committed to pursuing. But as in the case of Dorothy Kramer, it’s one step that will benefit all parties involved, including future residents of Dorothy’s senior living facility. Their lives will be better protected because of the Kramer family’s foresight and its commitment to doing what’s right.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’re here to help.

*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.

Stonehenge Land Company’s Case Against Board of Education/School District Settles out of Court

Columbus, Ohio – Business litigation law firm Cooper & Elliott is pleased to announce that the case between Stonehenge Land Company and a Board of Education (the full name has been withheld from this post for privacy) has reached a settlement agreement for $980,000.

According to court documents, the settlement was reached after the trial court indicated that it would very likely allow the case to proceed to trial.

Unfortunately, the poor decision-making of the School Board has cost the school district and its students a considerable amount of money. While Stonehenge had the right and reasons to sue for a much larger amount, they elected to settle for a smaller sum, sufficient to cover some of the losses caused by the School Board’s decisions without unduly harming the students of the district.

In 2007, the Superintendent of the School District asked Stonehenge Land Company to help secure a large parcel of property across from their High School.  The School Board had long desired the property to expand the High School classroom space but was not experienced in acquiring or developing real estate.  Stonehenge secured the property at a substantially reduced price and agreed to assign the Purchase Contract to the district in exchange for a promise to construct buildings on the property and for long term leases on two plot lots and a ground lease on the first floor of one of the buildings to be constructed on the property.

After Stonehenge put in months of work and assigned the purchase contract, the School Board changed course, publicly bid the construction contract and issued leases to third parties completely cutting Stonehenge out of the deal. Stonehenge was left with no recourse, except to sue the School Board, its Superintendent and its Board Members for fraud and breach of contract.

After choosing to violate its contract with Stonehenge, the district attempted to hide behind laws that protect governmental entities and schools from liability. Cooper & Elliott argued on behalf of Stonehenge that the School Board was engaged in a commercial activity and the typical shield applying to governmental entities and Schools did not apply. Cooper & Elliott believed strongly that the Court was poised to permit these claims to proceed to a jury trial.

Cooper & Elliott will not allow citizens to be bullied by any governmental entity that tries to then hide behind laws that shield the government against lawsuits.  In cases of injustice like this one, our law firm will fight until justice is done and the injured party is put back into the position it would have been in but for the governmental misconduct.  It is our hope that this case will cause this district and other governmental entities to think twice before engaging in commercial activity and then attempting to profit at the expense of others.

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