Already shuttered by the state for a litany of egregious violations, a Hill City, Minn., assisted-living facility now faces a wrongful-death lawsuit.
While a resident at Chappy’s Golden Shores, Steven Nelson “was assaulted by two employees,” claims the lawsuit filed July 5 in Aitkin County District Court on behalf of Connie Billmeier, Nelson’s trustee and next-of-kin.
“One employee held Mr. Nelson down, while the second jumped on top of Mr. Nelson and hit him in the face repeatedly causing bleeding around his face and head,” the complaint alleges.
It ties the alleged beating to Nelson’s hospitalization later for a brain bleed and his death on Oct. 25, 2018.
The lawsuit names Chappy’s Golden Shores and its owner, Theresa L. Olson, as defendants. It doesn’t claim Olson participated in the beating, but argues that she and her facility “are vicariously liable” for the conduct of employees.
The complaint states that Nelson, 58 at the time, was receiving care for dementia, cognitive dysfunction and symptoms of cerebral palsy. He used a wheelchair and was unable to defend himself.
The lawsuit asks for damages of no less than $50,000 for Billmeier, plus legal fees and other expenses.
Jennifer Bullard, a lawyer with the Minneapolis firm of Bowman and Brooke who is defending Chappy's along with colleague Alana Kim Bassin, said in a telephone interview that their side is "confident that the facts will show that these allegations are false, and they're not supported by the evidence."
Nonetheless, Bullard said, Chappy's takes the allegations seriously. "They care very deeply about the residents," she said. "That's abundantly clear."
The complaint leans heavily on extensive substantiated allegations against the facility by the Minnesota Department of Health’s Office of Health Facility Complaints. The concerns, which included the alleged treatment of Nelson, led to the state removing all 37 residents from the facility on Dec. 6 and suspending its license. The license was revoked on Feb. 20.
Chappy’s has responded vigorously to the charges. It’s challenging the revocation in a hearing set for next month, and it filed a lawsuit of its own against the health department, saying the facility and its employees were wrongfully accused and asking damages of more than $1 million. A judge dismissed the lawsuit, but the Chappy’s lawyer in that case, Jason Steck, said the lawsuit could be reinstated depending on the results of the revocation hearing.
Troubles have continued for Chappy’s since its license was revoked. In April, the Minnesota Board of Nursing ordered that Olson, a licensed practical nurse, must cease practicing nursing in the state. In July, Ninth District Judge David Hermerding ruled in favor of the health department and against Chappy’s, finding that Chappy’s had been operating in spite of the revocation and ordering it to stop.
As of Wednesday, no criminal charges had been filed in connection with the allegations. But Aitkin County Sheriff Dan Guida said in an email that the investigation is nearly complete.
Suzanne M. Scheller, a Champlin, Minn., lawyer representing Billmeier, said in a telephone interview that it’s not unusual for a wrongful death lawsuit to be filed in the absence of criminal charges, at least when it comes to nursing facilities.
Criminal charges seldom are filed against long-term care facilities, she said, so the status of any criminal investigation doesn’t come into play when considering a wrongful death action.
Scheller said the case against Chappy’s highlights the need for a new law the Minnesota Legislature passed this year to regulate assisted-living facilities. The law will go into effect in 2021.
A scheduling conference for the lawsuit is scheduled for Oct. 30.