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U.S. District Judge George C. Hanks Jr. ruled that a Houston nursing home cannot toss a wrongful death lawsuit that alleges the home negligently exposed a former resident to COVID-19—ultimately leading to her death.
In a Jan. 24 ruling, Judge Hanks Jr. adopted the U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew M. Edison’s report and recommendation to deny SSC Houston Southwest Operating Co motion for summary judgment against wrongful death claims brought by Marie Lilly on behalf of former resident Edna Spells. Spells died from COVID-19 in April 2020
The federal judge’s ruling upholds Edison’s rejection of SSC’s argument that it was immune from Lilly’s claims under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act of 2005. The PREP Act provides entities and individuals with broad immunity when responding to national public health emergencies. Lilly’s claims allege that the SSC’s failure was in its inaction—which Judge Edison ruled is not covered by the PREP Act.
In his Jan. 4 opinion, Judge Edison wrote:
“Nowhere in the live pleading does plaintiff allege that Spells’s death was causally connected to the administration or use of any covered countermeasure, such as COVID-19 tests, N95 respirators or face shield.”Instead, plaintiff alleges precisely the opposite — that it was SSC’s inaction, rather than action, that caused Spells’s death.”
Judge Hanks Jr. adopted Edison’s finding after no objections were filed according to a two-page order.
How did Edna Spells Contract COVID-19?
According to court records, Edna Spells was a resident of SSC’s Westchase Health and Rehabilitation Center from August 2011 until her death.
Spells tested positive for COVID-19 on April 22, 2020—two days later she began showing symptoms. She was transferred to Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital on April 24 and passed away the next day, according to court records.
In September, Lilly filed suit against SSC in Harris County District Court alleging that the nursing home failed to implement COVID-19 exposure control efforts.
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