The Citadel Salisbury nursing home in North Carolina is at the center of the COVID-19 legal storm. As the target of a lawsuit filed on behalf of 96-year-old Majorie Fuller Garvin for negligence, the lawsuit alleges the staff allowed the coronavirus to spread in the nursing home. Garvin is one of 102 confirmed COVID-19 cases within the facility.
Proving negligence requires more than demonstrating that the virus spread in the nursing home. It will require proving that the Citadel Salisbury nursing home failed to meet the basic standards that a facility could be reasonably expected to provide for a private room that costs $11,000 per month.
Hence, the lawsuit does not confine itself to simply listing shortcomings that happened post-COVID-19. The suit addresses conditions found at Citadel-Salisbury in a February inspection. These include allegations that staff was not responding to “call lights” for a period of up to 3 months and that the showers were not cleaned for 6 months, all of which allowed the coronavirus to fester and spread.
Finally, Garvin’s family says they were unable to reach staff by phone to find out how Marjorie was faring. In this, the lawsuit will also cite complaints by Citadel staff that their own corporate office was not providing proper communication.
Another resident, Margaret Blackwell, who contracted the coronavirus, said in her affidavit that staff nurses were negligent in wearing masks and that the nursing home continued communal activities in the midst of the pandemic.
The result is a lawsuit that aims at both the nursing home administration, as well as its corporate office in New York. Compensatory damages, including legal fees, are likely to be modest—in the $25,000 range. But punitive damages are also being sought and Garvin’s legal team is seeking a jury trial.
Mona Lisa Wallace, an attorney for the plaintiff, said, “The public records regarding this nursing home facility reflect that unsanitary and unsafe conditions existed even before the virus came to our area…We believe the company should have done much more to anticipate and guard against the COVID-19 virus before it was too late.”
But the defendants are not without a case of their own. Kim Morrow, a spokesperson for ownership, said the lawsuit is attempting to exploit a worldwide crisis. “It is unfortunate that this unavoidable and unprecedented pandemic is being used to question the integrity and professionalism of the Citadel Salisbury staff.”
Furthermore, the nursing home can cite local police reports in their defense. Detectives followed up on complaints, but found “no evidence of criminal neglect.”
It’s looking like a jury in North Carolina’s Rowan County will ultimately decide who is right and perhaps set a precedent for similar cases around the country.