Jury awards $5.5M to family over 89-year-old woman's injuries at Tarzana senior facility

TARZANA, LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- In June of 2018, 89-year-old Sherrill Phillips moved into AvantGarde Senior Living of Tarzana and was singing songs with her granddaughter.

But in July, it was a totally different scene.

A security camera at the facility captured the moment an activities coordinator, guiding Sherrill as she walked down the hall, became distracted and took her hands off her for a moment. Sherrill fell, fracturing her neck.

Since that injury, Sherrill's family says she has changed for the worse.

When asked to repeat a simple phrase, Sherrill was unable to, responding with gibberish instead.

"What happened to her, the fall, definitely precipitated just a rapid decline in her otherwise pretty good condition," said Brian Poulter, the family's attorney.

Sherrill was hospitalized for several days after the fall, which led to a lawsuit and an eventual $5.5 million jury verdict against AvantGarde for negligence and elder neglect.

"I wanted to find out, not only what happened for my mom, but also to get them to acknowledge the fact that something did, what they did and the care that they were giving my mom wasn't right," said Lydia Phillips, Sherrill's daughter.

"Whenever you take on the responsibility to care for these people, you got to do it right," Poulter said.

Video of Sherrill's fall shows very clearly what happened in that moment, but the family's lawsuit also focused on the care Sherrill received throughout her stay in Tarzana.

"I noticed my mom wasn't getting cleaned, wasn't getting washed, her hair wasn't kept and her teeth weren't being brushed, so I kept bringing it to everybody's attention," Lydia Phillips said.

Eyewitness News reached out to the facility's CEO Jason Adelman for comment.

A statement was issued, saying, "AvantGarde Senior Living of Tarzana is empathetic regarding this matter and is sympathetic to the resident and her family. The facility is committed to providing excellent care to the community. As to this particular legal matter, it is still pending, so we cannot comment further at this time except to say that we are looking carefully at all of our options."

For Lydia, taking this lawsuit to trial came with significant financial risk, but she says it was important for her to help other families who will be making a similar decision on where to place an aging family member.

"It's a tremendous amount of guilt that I have, that I moved her in and didn't get her out fast enough," she added. "... And that this is what my mom is today. There's no coming back."
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