The state of New Jersey was accused of gross negligence and incompetence over the way they handled Covid in veterans' homes. Consequently, they have agreed to pay $53 million to the families of 119 residents who died from COVID during the early days of the pandemic. Each family on average will receive $445,000.
Two of the veteran's homes located in Menlo Park and Paramus reported some of the highest Covid related death tolls in the country. Over 200 residents died, prompting the state to send in emergency assistance from the Veterans’ administration and the national guard.
Both of these facilities are still a part of an ongoing federal investigation, focusing on violations of the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act.
This settlement comes despite the broad immunity New Jersey granted nursing homes that were “acting in good faith” early on in the pandemic.
Although the state did not stop all lawsuits, they did raise the bar in terms of what actions are considered negligence. Still, dozens of civil tort claims were filed for families of those who died in the state’s care.
Administrators were accused of failing to appoint proper infection prevention measures, despite clear evidence demonstrating how quickly Covid was spreading and how catastrophic the effects were. Among the most egregious examples of negligence demonstrated were directives from the veteran’s homes ordering staff not to use masks or gloves in order to not frighten the residents.
Lawyers for the victim’s families accused the administration of waiting too long to isolate residents with confirmed COVID cases, and allowing staff members who tested positive to continue working due to severe shortages of medical staff.
At the Paramus Veterans home, residents who tested positive for COVID-19 were allowed to socialize with patients awaiting test results in the dementia ward. In addition, nursing aides were often not told which patients tested positive, resulting in them wearing the same gloves and gowns while treating multiple patients. This likely furthered the spread of the virus.
Under the terms of the settlement, the state is required to pay 60% of the settlement, which equates to $31.7 million, within 90 days of the receipt of all closing papers. The total amount of the settlement is $52,955,000. The final amount each family will receive depends on the decisions reached in binding arbitration. The balance remaining on the settlement will be paid before July 30th, or upon the reporting of the decisions regarding arbitration hearings.
In light of these tragic deaths, New Jersey has enacted legislation that requires weekly reports to the state health commissions on veteran homes during all public health emergencies. In addition, the veteran’s homes are also required to keep family members informed through quarterly town halls, and give family members the right to remove veterans from their state homes during times of crisis.
A new law was also instated requiring nursing homes to increase staffing levels. This resulted in 78 new employees being hired at the three state-run veteran homes where families argue short-staffing contributed to the deaths of their loved ones during the pandemic.
Paul M. da Costa, an attorney who represented several families in this case stated “No amount of money can ever obviously replace the lives of the lost veterans, but my clients and I are satisfied that this settlement provides a good measure of civil justice and accountability”.
Over the last 50 years, Rheingold, Giuffra, Ruffo, & Plotkin LLP has helped injury and their families recover millions of dollars in relief. If you suspect that your loved one is the victim of nursing home abuse, our team encourages you to take action immediately. We are ready to help you assess our legal options and, if necessary, take an aggressive approach to recover the compensation you and your loved ones deserve.