May 4, 2008 in City

Nursing home sued over habitual smoker’s death

Meghann M. Cuniff Staff writer
 

Jimmie Wilson died after he stepped out for a smoke.

The 63-year-old resident at Spokane Valley’s Angel of Grace Adult Family Home suffered burns over 80 percent of his body after cigarette ashes set his gown ablaze in May 2007. He died at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, and now his family is suing the nursing home, alleging employee negligence played a role in Wilson’s death.

“When he caught on fire, there was no one there to help,” said Gene Davis, Wilson’s brother-in-law and a retired Bellevue attorney handling the lawsuit, filed April 28 in Spokane Superior Court.

Angel of Grace owner Lorie Brewer and her husband as well as caregiver Dianne Carter and her husband are named as defendants in the suit, which asks for nearly $33,000 to cover hospital and cremation costs as well as personal damages to be determined during trial.

An Angel of Grace representative did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Wilson, a truck driver, suffered a stroke in June 2006 and stayed at the Spokane Veterans Affairs Medical Center before moving to Angel of Grace in January 2007, according to the suit.

Included in Wilson’s written care plan were instructions that the habitual smoker needed to have his cigarettes and lighter locked up to prevent unsupervised smoking, Davis said, which family members considered a safety hazard.

“Neither of those things occurred in this case,” said Davis, who filed the suit on behalf of Deanna Davis and Holly Davis of Seattle, Wilson’s nieces. “We believe that there was clear negligence on the part of the people that were supposed to be watching out for his safety.”

According to the lawsuit, Wilson went to a deck off the main-floor living room of the nursing home to smoke a cigarette alone while Carter was the caregiver on duty. Carter heard Wilson walking while she was downstairs assisting another resident and looked out a window to see drops of fire coming down from the deck where he was smoking, the civil complaint continues.

“She ran upstairs and found Jimmie lying on the deck with his clothes all burned off and crying for help,” the lawsuit reads.

The suit alleges Carter didn’t call 911 until first calling Brewer, then talking to a co-worker. An ambulance rushed Wilson to Deaconess Medical Center, where he was airlifted to Harborview. He died the next day.

“Jimmie was conscious during much of the time that the folks at the family home and Fire Department were responding, and he was conscious when he arrived at Deaconess,” Davis said.

Davis said the tragedy underscores the need “for people who are in that kind of position of trust and responsibility to take it a little bit more seriously than was done here.”

“It’s just a very tragic set of circumstances that could have been avoided,” Davis said.


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