The backlash to more than 100 COVID infections and multiple deaths at the Redwood Springs Healthcare Center has resulted in multiple lawsuits brought by three families who lost loved ones at the nursing home.
Redwood Springs is being sued by the families of Santiago Gonzales, Esther Soliz, and Gennie Price who all died in April of 2020 of COVID while under the facility’s care.
The families, all represented by the law firm of Baradat & Paboojian in Fresno, are suing the facility for elder abuse, willful misconduct, and wrongful death.
Everyone is “doing fine”
Each suit states that by February of 2020, it was well known that people over 65 years old or with underlying health conditions were the most vulnerable to COVID, and that Redwood Springs was aware — or should have been — of the widespread infection rates and deaths that plagued nursing homes.
The first COVID death in the United States was in fact reported from a nursing home in the state of Washington.
“[…] it quickly became apparent that nursing homes needed to take immediate action in order to protect the health of its patients from COVID–19 exposure,” the filings read.
Besides allegedly failing to take the appropriate safety precautions, the suit says that Redwood Springs acted with malice by knowingly allowing employees to continue working at the facility while showing COVID symptoms.
“Based on information and belief, the facility continued to require and encourage employees to enter the facility and continue to work within the facility, despite reporting to the facility of their own COVID-19 infection and/or related symptoms. Redwood Springs required employees with infections and/or infection-related symptoms to attend work, because they did not want to spend the money to hire additional staff […],” the suits state.
In all three cases the families of Soliz, Gonzalez, and Price claim they were assured that they “were safe in the facility and that all safety precautions were being taken to protect (them) from COVID–19 infection.”
In April of 2020, all three nevertheless tested positive: Gonzalez on April 3, followed by Price on April 16, and Soliz on April 20.
Though the facility continued to tell families that their loved ones were “doing fine,” Price died on April 22 and Soliz died on April 28.
Gonzalez’ family’s suit states that “on April 10, 2020, the family was told Santiago Gonzalez was doing ‘fine.’ Later that day, on April 10, 2020, to the family’s surprise, they were notified that Santiago Gonzalez had passed away.”
The suit claims that, “the failure to require the use of personal protective equipment and employ reasonable policies and procedures for isolating residents and employees that either tested positive for, or were suspected to have COVID-19, away from uninfected residents and employees, exposed decedent to the high probability of exposure to COVID-19, resulting in injury and/or death.”
In April and May of 2020, the Visalia Times-Delta and the Valley Voice reported that Linwood Meadows Care Center, Lindsay Gardens and Redwood Springs faced complaints about staff working while symptomatic with COVID.
A Times Delta article, dated April 27, stated “Redwood Springs in northeast Visalia ballooned to 174 cases — 114 residents, 60 staff — and is California’s worst documented nursing home outbreak. Twenty residents have died as of Friday.”
The lawsuit documents slightly different numbers stating that 124 residents and 71 staff tested positive for COVID and of the 124 residents 29 died.
Suits transferred to languish in federal court
In all three cases, the lawyers representing Redwood Springs, Wilson Getty LLP out of San Diego, petitioned to remove the cases from the Tulare County Superior Court to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California, stating that the cases should be heard in federal court because they present “a significant federal question.”
The court they landed in, the Eastern District’s Fresno court, has only one district judge and has been operating under emergency procedures since February 2020. Judge Dale A. Drozd, according to an October 2021 filing, is overseeing 1,305 civil cases and 745 criminal cases:
“As U.S. District Judge Dale A. Drozd conveyed in a standing order re judicial emergency issued in February 2020, to have a single district judge attempt to manage two excessive caseloads in the Fresno courthouse of the Eastern District of California −− currently a combined 1305 civil cases and over 745 criminal defendants — is UNSUSTAINABLE.
Therefore, until a new district judge is appointed to fill at least one of the two long−standing vacancies in the Fresno courthouse and is able to begin hearing cases, the parties in ALL civil Unassigned/NONE cases are hereby advised they should expect that no matter in any of those cases will be addressed by a district judge. For practical purposes, this means that all matters set before the district judge in these cases are effectively STAYED until further notice.“
Redwood Springs’ lawyers claim in their legal filing that “the claims fall under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 247d-6d and 247d-6e (2006) (the “PREP Act”), the applicability of which presents a significant federal question relating to the ongoing national emergency and COVID-19 pandemic.”
“The PREP Act and HHS Secretary Azar’s declarations confer a broad and sweeping immunity to individuals and entities fighting the COVID-19 pandemic during this declared state of emergency. The unique character of the COVID-19 virus, the present lack of a vaccine [editor’s note: at the time of filing], as well as its high communicability required Secretary Azar to set forth an expansive declaration covering broad categories of measures to fight the pandemic including COVID-19 testing and PPE, all of which require interpretation as to the scope and application,” a filing by Redwood Springs’ attorneys state.
“Thus there can be no doubt that there is a substantial and compelling interest for the PREP Act and the Secretary’s declaration to be interpreted by the Federal Courts,” the filing continues.
In each case, the families’ attorneys have filed requests that they be tried in Tulare County, not the Eastern District court.
The lawyers for the plaintiffs requested that the federal court return their case back to Tulare County: their family members died in Tulare County, Redwood Springs is located in Tulare County, and only filed claims under California law.
The lawyers continued, “There is no basis for removal here, and Plaintiffs move the Court to remand the case to Superior Court. In fact the ‘overwhelming majority’ of district courts faced with this exact issue are remanding Covid – related nursing home state negligence cases back to the state courts they belong in.”
Drozd later issued an Order to Show Cause on November 10, stating that the cases could be delayed until a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals case is decided. That appeals case centered around whether a federal court was wrong in returning a similar nursing home case from a federal court to a state court.
Paboojian told the Voice that “there has been a stay to the case until the 9th circuit rules re: a pivotal case involving COVID.”