A Pierce County man is suing the owners of the Tacoma group home where his deaf, developmentally disabled brother died three years ago during an abnormal heat wave.
Earl Vernon’s attorney, Darrell Cochran, filed the lawsuit last week in Pierce County Superior Court.
Vernon’s brother, Henry David Vernon, died during in the early morning July 29, 2009, after his core body temperature reached lethal levels while he slept in an upstairs room of a house in Tacoma. The temperature at Sea-Tac Airport hit 95 degrees July 28, 2009, one degree short of the record set 11 years earlier.
Earl Vernon contends in the lawsuit that Aacres Landing, which operates the home, didn’t do enough to protect his brother, who went by David, from the heat.
Attempts to get a comment from Aacres Landing were unsuccessful last week. The company told The News Tribune for a story published in October 2010 that its staff members took all reasonable precautions to protect its residents during the heat wave.
Earl Vernon claims otherwise in his lawsuit.
Aacres staff members knew David Vernon, 55, was taking medications that made him susceptible to hyperthermia – a condition in which the body’s temperature rises – yet did nothing to safeguard him during the heat wave, the lawsuit states.
“Defendant Aacres staff failed to check on David that night, despite the current 103-degree temperatures outdoors, the known side effects of his medications and the lack of air conditioning in his room,” it states.
A caregiver found David Vernon unresponsive in his room about 5 a.m. and called 911. Paramedics took him to St. Joseph Medical Center, where he was declared dead. His body temperature was 107 degrees when he reached the hospital, case records showed.
There were at least four investigations into David Vernon’s death, all of which concluded he died of accidental causes.
Earl Vernon pushed county prosecutors to file criminal charges in his brother’s death, but Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said last year that his deputies could find no criminal liability.
Vernon’s quest for justice in civil court also might come to naught.
State law prevents him from collecting general damages from his brother’s death. The law limits beneficiaries in wrongful-death suits to the deceased person’s surviving spouse, state-registered domestic partner, children or stepchildren. David Vernon had none of those.
Earl Vernon conceded as much in his lawsuit and complained the law “encourages a tortuous party to allow vulnerable adults to die rather than preserve their lives in an injured state.”
But he asked the court to award special damages in his brother’s death, including the cost of his funeral.