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Jury awards $28 million punitive damages in Auburn care-home elder-abuse lawsuit

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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A jury in Sacramento awarded $28 million in punitive damages today to the family of a former Hawaii woman who died in 2005 after a seven-month stay at North Auburn’s Colonial Healthcare skilled nursing facility. The same superior court civil jury had found Wednesday that Colonial Healthcare, a subsidiary of Rocklin’s Horizon West HealthCare Inc., was guilty of elder abuse. Another finding by the jury of malicious conduct by Horizon West and Colonial in the death of 79-year-old Frances Tanner set the stage for two hours of deliberations today on punitive damages. A Horizon West executive – Chief Marketing Officer Dan Niccum – said after the $28 million decision that the company will be lodging “very vigorous” appeals on both the jury decision and the amount of damages. “Horizon West strongly feels this case was without merit,” Niccum said. “It was based on emotion – not facts. Even in my wildest dreams I couldn’t have imagined this. We’re taken aback by the judgment.” Roseville attorney James Osman, who is moving through the civil court process on a whistleblower suit against Horizon West, said that the $28 million in punitive damages – on top of another $1.1 million awarded to Tanner’s estate and Tanner’s daughter, Elizabeth Pao of Placerville, for pain and suffering – is meant to send a message to the senior healthcare company. “I talked to jurors and they wanted to send a message and an incentive for the facility to spend more of its profits on patient care,” Osman said. Niccum said any portrayal of Horizon West as a greedy company is an unfortunate and false one. “The facts are that most normal businesses would not have invested at the level Horizon West has,” he said. “Horizon West is committed to the Auburn community.” Owned by Golden Legacy, a family owned company founded in Auburn in 1960, Horizon West and Colonial Healthcare has two facilities in Auburn. In all, it owns 27 skilled nursing facilities, four assisted living communities and three active retirement communities in California and Utah. The North Auburn facility where Tanner lived in 2005 is located on Shale Ridge Road and was formerly called Hilltop Manor Convalescent Hospital. A more extensive report on the case is scheduled to appear in a future edition of the Journal.