Attorney Andy Arnold speaks for those who can't speak for themselvesAug 07, 2019 12:49PM ● By Chris Haire
By Dustin Waters
Serving as counsel for a victim can involve taking on many roles--legal advisor, personal advocate, a shoulder to cry on. But what about the cases where the person who has been wronged has no way of speaking up for themselves? What about the clients who have no voice at all? These are situations that attorney Andy Arnold knows all too well.
Working primarily as a litigator with Horton Law Firm, Arnold has tried numerous cases involving neglect and wrongful death. His first experience with a case stemming from nursing home neglect came in 2001 and ended with a $2 million verdict in favor of his client.
Unfortunately, with more and more members of the Baby Boomer generation entering into retirement age, caring for the nation's growing elderly population is becoming increasingly difficult. According to researchers at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the number of Americans 66 to 84 years old will reach 61 million by the year 2030. In addition, those born prior to 1946 will account for another 9 million.
"One issue is there is just a limited number of nursing home beds in the state. Unless they approve more beds, even with the population growing older, that may or may not result in a larger nursing home population," says Arnold. "What you do see over the last 20 years is that people are living older and dementia is really becoming a defining characteristic of most people in nursing homes. This leads to the notion of people not only living past the ability to care for themselves, but also to speak up for themselves."
Researchers estimate that almost two-thirds of individuals living in nursing homes in the United States have some form of cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer's disease. As Arnold points out, this is a large and incredibly vulnerable population of people who may not be capable of reporting abuse to a loved one, not to mention serve as their own witness in a court of law.
According to Arnold, signs of possible neglect include dehydration, significant weight loss, and pressure ulcers, more commonly known as bedsores. Fractures also serve as another sign of neglect--one with which Arnold is very familiar.
"My first case involved someone who had a fractured leg. Her leg was at a 45-degree angle. It was a fracture that you could see," he recalls. "They put her back in bed and covered her up. She laid there for 24 hours until the sitter hired by the family came up the next day and saw this woman in pain."
With cases involving an elderly victim suffering from some form of mental impairment or a victim who may have already passed away, Arnold sees his role as the greatest responsibility that a lawyer can have: speaking for those who can't speak for themselves.
"It's one thing when your client is a loudmouth. I've had some of those. They're good people. They can take up for themselves; they just don't have a law degree," Arnold says. "It's the people who can't participate in their own defense, who can't articulate or express the need for what has happened to them--it's those types of people who you owe a greater responsibility."
Arnold is currently working on a case involving the death of a man in his 50s who was struck while riding his bike. After encountering a set of rumble strips alongside a road, which Arnold argues were improperly arranged, the man was launched from his bike and into an oncoming truck. According to Arnold, the man survived for another couple of hours, just long enough to have a friend phone his wife and daughter so that he could say one final goodbye.
As with any untimely death, this is a tragic event, the sort that attorneys might find themselves navigating on a regular basis, while also trying to maintain a steady focus on the legal and fiscal matters surrounding the case.
"It's a very difficult thing for lawyers to do in the wrongful death area. You take a tragedy that there's not enough money in the world to compensate these people. They would give every damn thing they owned to get this person back," says Arnold. "But now I and my partner in this case have to respect the feelings of the family and at the same time, you're trying to put a dollar figure on the damage that was done. It's an odd concept. But the alternative is letting people who are responsible for doing harm off the hook. You can't do that."
As with any wrongful death case, the ultimate goal is to find some sense of security for the family of the victim, while also bringing attention to issues so that future lives may be saved. Of course, this comes along with trying to console a family in the grips of loss. In cases that involve nursing home neglect, that grief may be coupled with the guilt of having left a loved one in the care of strangers.
For Arnold, this experience has made him fully aware of just how fragile and arbitrary life and death can be. But for him, the ability to empathize with the families of the victims he represents can serve as another powerful legal tool in the courtroom.
"You've got to remain objective, but the truth is you can't not feel the emotion. If you're in front of a jury, the jury wants to know that you believe the things you're asking them to believe," Arnold says. "If someone believes that somebody is responsible for the tragic death of another, there ought to be some anger, there ought to be some sadness, there ought to be some sympathy. You've got to be able to think clearly, but you can't just try to quash the emotions. You've got to try to balance it."