Boice v. Emeritus

Assisted living is California’s new “Gold Rush”: it is one of the fastest growing and most profitable industries in the state, yet one of the most poorly regulated. Emeritus Corporation, which was the largest long-term care provider in the world, typified the abuses in the industry: a relentless drive for expansion, occupancy, and profits; deliberate understaffing to shave expenses; and scant attention to resident care and safety. Emeritus executives ignored repeated complaints and warnings about the dangers their policies posed to residents.

Joan Boice was a victim of Emeritus’ decision to sacrifice safety for profits. In her three months at Emeritus’ Emerald Hills facility, she went from ambulatory and physically healthy to near-death condition—bedridden, malnourished, her body riddled with bone-deep bedsores that Emeritus tried to conceal from her family. Joan died two months after leaving Emerald Hills.

Lesley Ann Clement accepted Joan Boice’s case and worked tirelessly to expose the dirty secrets of Emeritus’ operations. At trial, the jury heard about Emeritus executives’ endless exhortations “Get heads in the beds!” “Close the back door!” and “No Barriers to Sales!” They learned that an Executive Vice President pressured facility managers to admit new residents without Physician’s Reports, which is illegal. They learned about repeated complaints of understaffing and lack of training.

The jury awarded $27,088,943.81 to Ms. Boice’s estate and family, the largest verdict awarded against a Assisted Living Facility in California. Additionally, the court awarded $4,200,000 in attorney fees and costs.

The case has shone a spotlight on the assisted living industry in California and nationwide. In July 2013, the PBS documentary series Frontline aired a one-hour special entitled Life and Death in Assisted Living, which used the Boice case as the centerpiece for its examination of industry failures. The Sacramento Bee published numerous articles about the Boice case both during the trial and after the verdict. As a result of this publicity, legislators have begun the process of crafting federal legislation tightening the regulations on assisted living facilities.

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