Yesterday, an Oakland County Jury deliberated for a little over an hour before awarding a $5,344,000.00 verdict to the estate of Aaron Kelly Miller for his wrongful death in 2017 while a resident at an adult foster care home owned by Angels’ Place of Oakland County.
“This was a horrific story that never had to happen,” said Jim Spagnuolo, Jr., of the Macomb Law Group attorney for the Estate of Kelly Miller. “The jury verdict is an accurate reflection of the pain and suffering this man endured in the final minutes of his life.”
On December 30, 2017, 55-year-old Kelly Miller, who had cognitive disabilities, choked on food, and died, while a resident at the Joliat Home in Commerce Township, Michigan. The Joliat home housed six adult men, and is one of twenty-one adult foster care homes providing residency to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and is owned and operated by the non-profit Angel’s Place. On the day of his wrongful death Angels’ Place did not staff the home with enough Direct Care Workers. In addition, the Direct Care Worker that was scheduled to oversee the home was not qualified to work and had poor work evaluations for safety, a history of mental health issues, as well as falling below State of Michigan standards and Angels’ Place’s own regulations. Despite those facts Angels’ Place negligently scheduled the employee to work on December 30, 2017, ultimately causing Kelly Miller’s death.
Jim Spagnuolo, Jr. of the Macomb Law Group filed a wrongful death suit on behalf of Kelly’s mother, Joan Miller against the Defendant Angels’ Place in 2018. The case was filed in Oakland County and heard before the Honorable Victoria Valentine. In a four plus year courtroom battle that saw a detour to the Court of Appeals; court-ordered sanctions due to the discovery of destroyed evidence by the Defendant Angels’ Place; and an attempt by Angels’ Place to use Dr. Ljubisa Dragovic as a paid witness to make a claim that “cognitively impaired people cannot feel pain”—a claim struck down by the Judge Valentine as being unsubstantiated by any proof or science.
“Over four years they [Angels’ Place] would not admit the mistakes they made that ended this man’s life. There was no limit to their avoidance of the truth to the point of making absurd allegations in their defense,” said Spagnuolo, Jr. “then at the eleventh hour they admitted their liability before our trial was to begin to minimize damages. The jury saw through their veiled attempts.”
On June 6, 2022, the attorneys for Angels’ Place admitted their liability in the death of Kelly Miller leaving only the question of what would be awarded to the estate. A two-day trial on damages began on June 24, 2022, before Judge Valentine. On June 27, 2022, after deliberating for a little over an hour the jury came back with their verdict for over five million dollars.
“Kelly’s family had to endure his death for over four years waiting for someone to take responsibility, or even offer an apology. That apology never came but justice came by way of a jury.” Spagnuolo added “As a father of a son with Down syndrome I think Angels’ Place does remarkable work; however, I believe they had a stretch of time where they were misguided by poor management, and I hope they get back on the right path and provide the proper care to people with disabilities.”