SACRAMENTO, Calif.--The offer came in late last year -- $3.5 million, Eric Boice said, if he, his brother and sister would drop the wrongful death and elder abuse lawsuit they had filed on behalf of their 82-year-old mother, Joan.
"Then," Boice said in an interview Friday, "nobody would have ever known."
Instead of making a deal with the Emeritus Corp., the Boice family pushed ahead to trial in its fight against the assisted-living giant.
Friday, a Sacramento Superior Court jury came back with a $23 million punitive damage award against Emeritus, which the jury three days earlier had already found guilty of malice, oppression and fraud in the death of Joan Boice.
"We think the jury got it right with the verdicts, and we're hoping that the punitive damage serves as a wake-up call to this company that it needs to change," Eric Boice said in the hallway outside the courtroom. "We've seen places that do it right, that are making a profit, but not at the expense of the people they are trying to serve."
Emeritus vowed to appeal the verdict.
"We are extremely disappointed in the outcome of the trial," company spokeswoman Karen Lucas said. "We feel it was not a fair reflection of how we handled the care for Mrs. Boice."
Already suffering from Alzheimer's disease, Joan Boice arrived at Emeritus at Emerald Hills in Auburn in September 2008. By the time she left in December, she had developed bedsores. She died three months after moving out, with the sores listed as a significant condition leading to her death.
In a two-month trial, plaintiffs put on evidence that the Emerald Hills resident nurse told a caregiver at Emerald Hills who first found the sores to "just don't let anybody know," because the disclosure would have resulted in Mrs. Boice's removal from the facility.
Along with systemic understaffing and a lack of training, Emeritus' retention policies designed to keep "heads in the beds" resulted from a corporate drive for profits that put the bottom line above residents' care, according to the plaintiffs.