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Senior living center loses appeal over woman’s death

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The court says Independence Village in Oxford had a duty to provide reasonable care.

The Michigan Supreme Court on Friday reinstated a lawsuit against a senior living center where an 89-year-old woman was locked out in cold weather and died a few weeks later.

In a 4-2 order, the court said Independence Village in Oxford had a duty to provide reasonable care. The case will return to Oakland County court.

Virginia Kermath was wearing only a nightgown when she apparently walked out a side door without her keys in December 2013. She was outdoors for 14 minutes. Hypothermia and frostbite contributed to her eventual death.

Lower courts said the harm to Kermath wasn’t foreseeable by Independence Village. But the Supreme Court disagreed.

“The potential burden associated with taking reasonable measures to prevent residents from being locked out and unable to alert staff, such as installing a buzzer or cameras, appears minimal when compared to the potential harm that could befall residents,” the court said.

In a court filing, Independence Village said Kermath chose independent senior living and that she and her family never indicated that she needed supervision at night.

“No reasonable juror could find that her death was foreseeable,” lawyers for Independence Village said.

Jennifer is an award winning broadcast news journalist with more than two decades of professional television news experience including the nation's fifth largest news market. She's worked as both news reporter and news anchor for television and radio in markets from Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo all the way to San Francisco, California.
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