NEW ORLEANS (CN) – The 5th Circuit ruled that Res-Care must reimburse its insurer $5 million for settling a wrongful-death case filed by the family of a mentally disabled patient who was left lying in a mixture of her own feces and bleach, causing her to die of complications from chemical burns.
Judge Reavley concluded that the circumstances of Trenia Wright’s death were “so extreme that the purposes of punishment and deterrence of conscious indifference outweigh the normally strong public policy of permitting the right to contract between insurer and insured.”
Wright lived at Appleridge, a Houston-based group home owned by Res-Care, from June 1992 until her death in April 1998. A 37-year-old with cerebral palsy and mental disabilities, Wright fell in the hallway one night and defecated on the floor. Staff worker Vickie Kennerly poured a bleach mixture onto the floor – and allegedly directly onto Wright – and took the other residents outside, leaving Wright on the floor.
Wright was later found “clad only in a T-shirt lying in the feces and bleach, where she had been left for over one hour, and possibly for several hours, while Kennerly ate pizza outside,” the ruling states.
Two other staff members changed her clothes and put Vaseline on her burns, but did not try to wash off the bleach. Over the next few days, Wright’s skin began peeling off in patches and she had to be taken to the emergency room, where she was diagnosed with extensive chemical burns that covered more than 40 percent of her body. She later died due to complications from the burns.
Kennerly was convicted of recklessly causing bodily injury to a disabled individual.
Wright’s family aggressively sued over her death, forcing American International Specialty Lines Insurance Company – Res-Care’s insurer – to settle for $9 million.
American argued, and the court agreed, that Res-Care was liable for $5 million of the settlement because its actions were so egregious.
“The Wright plaintiffs’ complaint is rife with allegations of gross negligence for which the responsibility should not be shifted from the defendants to the insurer,” Reavley wrote.