Georgia jury punishes senior care home in ant attack case

Betty Perloe, a retired nurse who had once cared for elderly family and friends, suffered in her final days and needed heavy doses of morphine to help ease the pain, a lawsuit alleges. (Family photo)

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Betty Perloe, a retired nurse who had once cared for elderly family and friends, suffered in her final days and needed heavy doses of morphine to help ease the pain, a lawsuit alleges. (Family photo)

Death of 92-year-old woman was described in AJC ‘s Unprotected series

A Gwinnett County jury this week awarded $2.5 million to the family of a 92-year-old woman who died after an ant infestation at her assisted living facility left her with stings across her body.

Betty Perloe and her personal aide saw ants in Perloe’s room at Somerby Senior Living of Sandy Springs in 2018, and the aide reported the infestation to the staff. But the facility didn’t eradicate the ants, and within days ants were repeatedly found on Perloe’s body. The retired nurse died soon after with painful, pus-filled stings caused by fire ants, the family argued.

“Her last week was one of agonizing pain and it was miserable,” said Lance Lourie, an attorney who represented Perloe’s family in the trial.

Perloe’s death was among dozens of cases of abuse and neglect that were exposed in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s “Unprotected” series. The 2019 investigation found that poor care was commonplace at upscale, private-pay senior care facilities in Georgia. The series prompted state lawmakers to pass a slate of reforms in 2020 to improve safety at assisted living facilities and large personal care homes across the state.

The Gwinnett County State Court jury verdict in the Perloe case included $500,000 for wrongful death, $1 million for the suffering caused by the facility, and $1 million in punitive damages. The jury also awarded $300,000 for attorney fees and expenses.

“The jury did conclude that this hastened her death, and we presented evidence of that, and the jury also gave more money for what they put her through,” Lourie said.

In a statement to the AJC, Somerby Sandy Springs said the case was an “unfortunate and unusual event” that took place when the facility was under prior ownership. ”Any loss of a loved one is heartbreaking and, as professional caregivers, we understand the grief felt by this former resident’s family,” the statement said. Somerby said the facility’s current owners established new training, protocols and standards.

Prior to the ant attacks, Perloe had health issues and was on hospice care, but she was stable and able to visit with family and participate in activities with a high quality of life, said her son, Dr. Mark Perloe. He said he hopes that her case would prompt new requirements for better medical oversight at senior care homes.

Ants had been a problem at Somerby for at least two months before Betty Perloe was stung repeatedly, but the facility didn’t take adequate steps to get them under control, Lourie said. The expert testimony made it clear, Lourie said, that ants can be dangerous, especially for frail elderly people.

In an unrelated case, a man who was a resident at a Veterans Affairs long-term care facility in Atlanta died in 2019 after being repeatedly attacked by fire ants.

“Those problems have to be addressed,” Lourie said. “It’s more than a nuisance or irritation. It’s a threat to the health and safety of residents.”


OUR REPORTING

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution closely covers the senior care industry. The newspaper’s 2019 “Unprotected” series exposed breakdowns in care and oversight across the assisted living industry. The AJC also exposed failures to protect senior care residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.