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Former state official killed in care home; lawsuit alleges neglect

Kelly Kenoyer
Attorney Joel Rhine speaks at a podium in front of the New Hanover County Judicial Building.

A Wilmington family is suing the memory care facility where their father resided until he died in September of 2020. The cause of death? A fellow resident attacked him in his sleep, breaking his back and causing other injuries.

Garland Garrett Jr., the former North Carolina secretary of transportation, was badly beaten by a fellow resident in his senior care home in fall of last year. He died of his injuries a week later.

This week, surrounded by fellow lawyers and members of the Garrett family in front of the county courthouse, attorney Joel Rhine detailed the September 6th assault.

“And he attacked him in his bed, and he beat him. Just broke his back, broke his face, and Garland Garrett died six days later.”

The lawsuit targets the care home, Spring Arbor and its management company, HHHunt; the initial filing alleges the defendants knew the assailant had a track record of violent incidents dating back months before the fatal incident.

“Everybody can understand that when we place our loved ones in these adult care facilities, they have a right to a safe environment. HHHunt didn’t even come close,” Rhine said.

According to the filing, state regulatory agencies assessed a type 1A penalty against the care home, the highest-level penalty possible. There were no criminal charges filed, as the assailant had dementia and has since passed away.

The filing preemptively assumes the defendants will claim legal immunity thanks to the state’s Emergency Act signed into law last year. The act, a response to the COVID-19 crisis, grants health facilities immunity from liability related to treating individuals during the pandemic. Rhine said the act should not apply in this case, as the death was unrelated to any treatment for any condition.

HHHunt sent the following video statement from Randy Jackson, Regional Director of Spring Arbor Senior Living:

This video statement is from Randy Jackson, Regional Director of Spring Arbor Senior Living