ALF Murder Trial Ends in Defense Verdict

Quintairos, Prieto, Wood & Boyer, P.A. (QPWB), is proud to announce that the firm won a complete defense verdict in an Assisted Living Facility (ALF) case on Monday, November 23rd, in Ft. Lauderdale, Broward County, Florida. This case was tried for six days before Judge Miette Bernstein by QPWB attorneys George Quintairos, Jeff Creasman and Peter Sotolongo for the defense, with Don St. Dennis and Phillip Kinney of Anderson, St. Dennis & Glenn, P.A. on behalf of the Plaintiffs. Plaintiff’s counsel demanded $10,000,000 prior to trial and asked the jury for $26,000,000 during closing argument. The defense had offered $300,000 prior to trial.

This case involved a resident-on-resident murder that occurred at Tiffany House by Marriott on May 10, 2001. The incident was widely reported in both the print and television media, and was investigated by the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Florida Department of Children and Family Services. Both agencies found no wrongdoing on the part of Tiffany House and its staff and, therefore, no citations or tags were issued and the matter was officially closed.

Nevertheless, a civil action complaint for damages was filed against Tiffany House by the family of our former resident, Bessie Kleinman, after she was found murdered by another resident, Felix Freed. The police investigation and subsequent court proceedings into her death revealed conclusive proof that Mr. Freed was the perpetrator. He was ultimately ruled mentally incompetent and incapable of standing trial.

Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint contained four counts: Count I was a Chapter 400 survival claim against Tiffany House for violations of Section 400.401 et. seq., Fla. Stat. (2001) (otherwise known as the “Assisted Living Facilities Act”); Count II was for breach of contract (“Agreement for Care”); Count III was a negligence wrongful death claim and Count IV was a wrongful death claim against the perpetrator, Felix Freed.

Plaintiff essentially alleged that Tiffany House breached their duties by failing to assess whether Felix Freed was fit to continue to reside at Tiffany House because Tiffany house knew or should have known that his continued placement was not appropriate; by failing to warn or advise other residents that Mr. Freed was not fit to continue to reside at Tiffany House; by failing to provide adequate security; by failing to prevent the reasonably foreseeable attack on Ms. Kleinman; by failing to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition; by failing to warn Ms. Kleinman that she was exposed to risk of harm because of inadequate security; by failing to recognize the high likelihood of criminal activity by third persons; and by failing to patrol the premises.

Plaintiff’s counsel put forth evidence that Tiffany House violated their own policies and procedures with respect to Mr. freed’s continued placement at Tiffany House based on clinical signs he was exhibiting during the months preceding the murder, including a statement by Mr. Freed one evening that he was afraid he could hurt himself or others. Additionally, Plaintiff put on evidence of errors in providing medications to control Mr. freed’s declining mental status, including the medication Risperdal which was prescribed for the management and treatment of psychotic disorders.

Plaintiff’s psychiatric expert, Dr. David Gross, opined that Mr. Freed was psychotic upon admission and was therefore inappropriate for admission based on Tiffany House’s own policy and procedures. He also testified that various psychiatric problems (e.g. hearing voices, ect), rendered Mr. Freed inappropriate for continued placement at Tiffany House. Dr. Gross further testified that the staff at Tiffany House knew or should have known that Freed was likely to commit some type of violent act, although he could not have predicted that Mr. Freed could have murdered Ms. Kleinman.

Plaintiff’s nurse expert, Johanna Ojeda, RN testified that Tiffany House violated numerous Resident Rights, as well as regulations and provisions of the Florida Administrative Code, including numerous charting and medication errors, and that Freed was inappropriate for his initial admission and his continued residency at Tiffany House.

The defense established through family members, staff and residents of the facility that Ms. Kleinman and Mr. Freed were considered good friends by everyone and were always very pleasant and cordial to each other. Mr. Freed would oftentimes assist Ms. Kleinman with any problem she was experiencing, including helping her enter her room and turn on the lights. In addition, all residents and staff members stated that Mr. Freed was always a “perfect gentleman” and that he was never rude, obnoxious, combative or violent to anyone. All witnesses testified that there was nothing in the records or statements from other witnesses that would even remotely indicate that Mr. Freed had a propensity to commit any form of a criminal act, and all family members, staff, and other residents stated they were in complete and total shock that Mr. Freed could have had anything to do with the death of Ms. Kleinman.

Furthermore, our psychiatric expert, Dr. Carl Eisdorfer, Chief of Psychiatry & Behavioral Science at the University of Miami, opined that although Mr. Freed had a prior history of major depression and psychosis he was stable at the time of admission and was appropriate for admission despite certain instances of mental decline, including “hearing voices” which urged him to harm himself or others. Dr. Eisdorfer also testified consistent with the Plaintiff’s experts that none of the medical professionals involved in the care and treatment of Mr. freed could have predicted that Freed would have engaged in any criminal or violent behavior towards Ms. Kleinman.

The defense also called Larry Sherberg, an ALF owner/operator and former President of the Florida Assisted Living Association (FALA), who testified that the admission was appropriate, that the care provided by the staff was appropriate, and that there were no violations of resident rights or negligence that caused or contributed to the death of Ms. Kleinman.

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