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Family Sues Seniors’ Home for $1.25M Where Mother Froze to Death

Posted in: Blog, Medical Malpractice // Written on behalf of Cuming & Gillespie
February 27, 2020

The topic of elder abuse and nursing home neglect is receiving more and more attention.  Once a private matter, stories of elderly parents or family members receiving inadequate care in nursing homes is increasingly being reported and garnering attention in the media.

Sadly, this is the case in the death of 93 year-old Helene Rowley Hotte Duceppe (“Duceppe”).  She died of hypothermia in January 2019.  Former Bloc Quebecois leader, Gilles Duceppe, and his six siblings are now suing the Lux Gouverneur Montreal for gross negligence, seeking $1.25 million in damages.  They are seeking compensatory and punitive damages and allege “grave negligence” on behalf of the staff and inadequate procedures at the residence where Duceppe suffered an untimely death.

WHAT HAPPENED?

On January 20, 2019, Duceppe died of hypothermia outside of her east end Montreal residence, the Lux Gouverneur, when she was stuck outside in the cold for six hours.  She had exited an emergency exit to an outdoor courtyard due to a false fire alarm that went off at 4:55 a.m.  The temperatures were -35 degrees Celsius with the windchill, and there was blowing snow.

The apartment complex where Duceppe was residing was made up of three towers, connected by interior corridors.  At 4:12 a.m., a carbon monoxide leak set off a fire alarm in Tower 2.  In error, at 4:55 a.m. a general alarm was set off for all three towers, including Tower 3 where Duceppe resided.  This alarm was turned off less than five minutes later and an announcement was made that residents in Towers 1 and 3 should remain in their apartments. 

It is suspected that because Duceppe was hard of hearing, she did not hear the announcement that her particular building was not being evacuated. 

Duceppe exited an emergency-exit door, which locked behind her.  She was unable to re-enter the residence as her access card did not work.  There was no doorbell, intercom and no way for her to communicate with anyone inside the building.

An alarm was tripped when Duceppe exited through the emergency door, which continued to ring for nearly four hours.  It was turned off at 8:45 a.m. by an employee.  However, no one checked outside of this door.

According to its website, Lux Gouverneur is a private luxury apartment complex that offers security which includes 24-hour concierge, video surveillance, an emergency call system and electronic chip cards to access apartments and buildings.

CORONER CONCLUDES THAT DUCEPPE’S DEATH COULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED

A coroner’s report, published this past summer, concluded that Duceppe’s death was preventable and identified a number of mistakes made on the part of the staff at the senior’s residence.

Coroner Gehane Kamel (“Kamel”) concluded that Duceppe died mere minutes before her body was found by an employee at 11:04 a.m.  Kamel determined that Duceppe’s death was an accident, but was a preventable death.  Kamel met with the management of Lux Gouverneur and was advised that they were in the process of updating the buildings’ emergency procedure.

Coroner Kamel made a number of recommendations to avoid this tragedy in the future, including:

  • Installing intercoms and doorbells at each of the residence’s emergency exits and an indicator panel to connect all exits and show when there is an anomaly;
  • Requiring that staff check all stairways and outdoor exits after any alarm is triggered;
  • Requiring that staff conduct a head count of each resident after an alarm is sounded;
  • Preparing a written emergency procedure to follow after an alarm goes off;
  • Designating one staff member with the role of safeguarding the residents and monitoring all surveillance cameras; and
  • Ensuring that residents’ medical files reflect their current situation.

Gilles Duceppe stated:

We can’t understand how something like this can happen.  There were cameras, they could have seen her.  … You have to open the door:  they could have saved her, she would have come in.  She was just there, on the other side.

The Duceppe family’s lawyer is hopeful that this tragedy will prompt a discussion regarding the need for stricter standards at seniors’ homes.  He stated:

We hear more and more about the problems that stem from the lack of security in these residences, but also sometimes because of lack of personnel, lack of training, carelessness in some cases.

A statement by the management of Lux Gouverneur has responded to the lawsuit by stating:

The safety and wellbeing of residents is a top priority for management.  Due to the ongoing legal procedures, we will not be granting interviews.

Negligence, such as that alleged by the Duceppe family, can occur in numerous ways and in general occurs when any conduct does not meet the reasonable standards for protecting a person from foreseeable risks of harm. 

We will continue to follow the Duceppe lawsuit and will report on any updates in this blog.

If your family suspects that your loved one has been the victim of abuse or neglect by nursing home staff, contact the personal injury lawyers at Cuming & Gillespie Lawyers.  Our legal team will meet with you and evaluate your legal options to help you decide whether to pursue a claim.  Contact our knowledgeable and experienced personal injury lawyers to learn what options are available at 403-571-0555 or online today.

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