‘He didn’t deserve this,’ Family of elderly man attacked at Wilmington living facility files wrongful death lawsuit

Wrongful death lawsuit filed against Spring Arbor

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The family of former NC Secretary of Transportation Garland Garrett filed a lawsuit Thursday morning against the owners of Spring Arbor of Wilmington.

The law firm says Garrett died after another resident at the assisted living center walked into his room while he was sleeping and beat him. Garrett suffered a broken back and serious facial injuries and died in the hospital six days later. The medical examiner’s office ruled his death a homicide.

“Just the suffering that he had to go through, we just feel like there needs to be accountability for it,” said Garland’s son, Greg Garrett.

Attorneys for the family have launched their own investigation into the events because they believe the timeline of events leading up to the attack doesn’t add up.

DSS penalized the facility with the most severe violation possible after the incident, ruling that Spring Arbor failed to supervise their residents.

“He didn’t deserve this. When you put somebody in a senior living facility and when you put your parent in there you expect for them to be taken care of and there was gross negligence in this case,” said Jim Lea of the Lea Schultz Law Firm.

The team of attorneys allege the facility didn’t do their job to protect Garrett. The patient who beat him had a history of hitting, kicking, throwing things and entering other resident’s rooms. The lawsuit filed Thursday details approximately 30 documented reports of that same individual hurting staff members or other residents at the center.

“They handed out this disclosure statement that said if a resident is an immediate danger to himself or other residents he would be discharged. That didn’t happen here,” said Joel Rhine of Rhine Law Firm.

Garrett’s family still grapples with his loss each day. The people that knew him best describe the former transportation secretary as being larger than life, and having a long history of service to Wilmington. They all agree he would have wanted to fight for change.

“It’s about justice. It’s about doing what’s right and it’s about our duty to make sure it doesn’t happen again, that’s first and foremost. We can’t correct what happened right now but we can make sure that it doesn’t happen going further,” said Lea.

A similar incident took place in February 2020, when a 94-year-old woman was pushed by another patient at the Commons at Brightmore and died six days later.

“... due to the diminished mental capacity of both suspects, the District Attorney’s office declined prosecution in both instances, so they will not go to trial,” the Wilmington Police Department said in a news release last October.

If anyone has information that they believe may be helpful, they are asked to contact the attorneys at 910-772-9960 or 910-239-5990.

The Regional Director of Spring Arbor Senior Living Center recorded the following statement Thursday addressing the allegations listed in the lawsuit:

“Our hearts go out to the family members of Mr. Garrett. Families entrust Spring Arbor of Wilmington with the care and safety of their loved ones and we take that responsibility very seriously. Since 1997 Spring Harbor of Wilmington has offered personalized care to our seniors. Our policies and privacy laws prohibit us from discussing any of our individual residents or their needs. we can however adamantly state that the accusations Mr. Rhine has made about our care in our communities is untrue. Thank you”

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