Posted on Jun 18, 2014
The Lebanon Daily News is reporting today, June 18, 2014, that the estate of a Lebanon man who died after sustaining severe burns while he was smoking at an Annville Township personal care facility last year can continue seeking punitive damages in a civil lawsuit, President Judge John Tylwalk ruled last week.
According to reports, Richard Clentimack was a resident at Hill Farm Estate, operated by Bethel Pointe Foundation, from July 20, 2012, to April 3, 2013. In his 24-page order, Tylwalk described Clentimack as "a frail, elderly man who was partially incapacitated and on numerous medications." Clentimack suffered from partial paralysis from a stroke that left him with use of one hand and one leg. He used a wheelchair.
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Clentimack's sister and the administrator of his estate, Sandra Foster, met with the Hill Farm executive director about Clentimack's smoking habits and they agreed that Clentimack would have to be supervised when smoking.
On April 3, 2013, an aide took Clentimack to an outside smoking area and then left to use the rest room. While she was away, staff members heard someone cry, "Help!" and they "found Clentimack on the ground engulfed in flames," Tylwalk wrote. Clentimack died the next day from complications of burns over 72.5 percent of his body.
"Accepting the facts alleged ... and the reasonable inferences therefrom as true," Tylwalk wrote, "we believe Plaintiff has pled sufficient facts to permit these allegations and the claim for Punitive Damages to remain at this stage of the proceedings. If developed through discovery and proven, the averments could potentially support a finding of recklessness on the part of Bethel Pointe." Tylwalk also permitted a claim of corporate negligence to proceed.
Clentimack's "unsafe smoking habits were observed and Bethel Pointe undertook responsibility for the development and institution of measures to ensure his safety while smoking," Tylwalk wrote. "This was necessary for his care and protection. It was reasonably foreseeable that the failure to abide by these guidelines could result in injuries such as severe burns."
Caring for people "who are unable to provide for their own needs and safety is of great value to society," Tylwalk wrote. "The consequences of imposing such a duty upon a personal care facility under these circumstances undoubtedly aids the public interest in assuring that personal care homes exercise the utmost care in dealing with the specific individual needs of a resident when the personal care facility assumes responsibility for dealing with such matters."
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