Reversal: Care facility must pay legal fees after $1M negligence verdict

December 23, 2015

An assisted-living facility where a resident died after being badly burned must pay the estate’s attorney fees, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday in reversing a trial court.

A Marion Superior jury awarded the estate of Charles Sindledecker just over $1 million in damages after finding the Greentree at Fort Harrison facility where he lived primarily at fault.

Sindledecker was a dementia patient who suffered serious burns in a fireplace that were not initially treated after staff found him unresponsive on the floor near the fireplace. According to the record, he later was hospitalized for 10 days for burn treatment before undergoing a skin graft. He never regained mobility and afterward could no longer feed himself. He died about a year and a half later.  

The trial court denied the estate’s motion for attorney fees and its motion to correct error, resulting in this appeal. Sindledecker’s residence agreement with Greentree contained a clause that read, “In the event of any controversy, claim, or dispute between the parties hereto, arising out of or relating to this Agreement or the breach thereof, the prevailing party shall be entitled to recover from the other party reasonable expenses, costs and attorney’s fees.”

The trial court held that because the estate had dismissed a breach of contract claim, the agreement was not at issue. But Judge John Baker wrote for the panel, “(T)he plain language of the residence agreement compels an award of attorney fees in this case.

“The judgment of the trial court is reversed and remanded so that the trial court may calculate reasonable attorney fees and award those fees to Sindledeckler’s estate,” Baker wrote in Carole Storch, as Personal Representative for the Estate of Charles Sindledecker v. Provision Living, LLC; PVL Tenant Holdings, LLC, d/b/a Greentree at Fort Harrison, 49A02-1505-CT-352.



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