NEW ORLEANS — A consortium of attorneys for some of the residents of seven nursing homes evacuated to a Tangipahoa warehouse for Hurricane Ida moved a step closer this week to settling a lawsuit against the homes and their owner, Bob Dean.
“Last week, we successfully achieved a preliminary settlement agreement against Bob Dean in the seven nursing homes,” said attorney Blair Constant, an associate with the Couhig Law Firm.
The attorneys were the first to file a class-action lawsuit in Jefferson Parish on behalf of the residents and their families after at least 15 residents died either in the warehouse or in the days that followed.
Dean, a real estate magnate who owned all seven of the homes evacuated to the site, prohibited Louisiana state health inspectors from entering the site as conditions deteriorated after the hurricane.
“I felt like this should never happen to an animal, much less a human being," said Joy Manguno, whose husband of nearly 60 years passed away after he required multiple surgeries for gangrene upon leaving the site.
843 residents were crammed into three warehouse buildings on mattresses and wooden cots on the floor as the category 4 hurricane churned over Independence. One of the buildings started taking on water as residents described rain pouring down the walls, pooling on the floor where many mattresses sat.
“When I walked in and I saw the mattresses on the floor, I knew this was not going to be good,” said Janice Verdin, a licensed registered nurse who worked at South Lafourche Nursing and Rehab.
She evacuated with that nursing home’s residents, including her Aunt Marie Roussel.
“She was intellectually disabled, so she was like a little kid and she was bubbly,” Verdin said.
According to Verdin, even though the storm hit in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, precautions for preventing the spread of the virus ended at the warehouse door. Mattresses were crammed next to each other with little-to-no space in between.
“She contracted COVID and she passed,” Verdin continued. “She would still be here if she wasn't in the warehouse.”
Verdin is one of the family members who signed on to the Jefferson class action lawsuit against Dean and the seven homes.
The attorneys said their investigation into Dean’s finances revealed more debt than assets, leaving a $12-to-$15 million dollar insurance settlement the only place to recoup losses from the magnate.
Dean had a private jet, multi-million-dollar estates in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Georgia and even a ranch in Oregon, yet his attorneys have claimed he has no money for the families to draw from.
“[Dean] already has a little over $90 million in secured judgments that are waiting to be collected,” Constant said, adding Dean was mortgaged “to the hilt.”
The proposed settlement agreement would split the money 843 ways with a court-appointed “special master” determining how much each resident receives.
A JP judge scheduled an Oct. 3 fairness hearing to decide whether the deal is fair to all parties. However, other attorneys have filed lawsuits in other jurisdictions, including well-known personal injury attorney Morris Bart, and they are not all sold on the claim that Dean’s debts are greater than his assets.
Bart represents 170 of the residents’ families and said Thursday he will not agree to the settlement until he knows for sure that Dean isn’t hiding assets.
“The odd thing is, even though he claims he's busted, he's never filed for bankruptcy and he still refuses to do so, so that raises a red flag,” Bart said.
While the money is needed for many of the residents and their families, some of whom are still receiving medical bills, most said Thursday the money is not their sole motivation for filing suit.
“I wouldn't treat my dogs like that. My dogs get better treatment than what how they were treated in the nursing, in the warehouse. It it's unacceptable. Something has got to change,” Verdin said.
The deadline for residents to remove themselves from the class action is in mid-September in advance of the October hearing.
Dean was also arrested on a slew of criminal charges for the warehouse conditions, including eight felony counts of cruelty to persons with infirmities, five counts of Medicaid fraud and two counts of obstruction of justice.
He has been out on a $350,000 bail living in his Georgia home since his arrest in June. The Louisiana Attorney General’s Office did not respond to a request for a status update on the criminal case, but court records indicate Dean has not yet been formally charged.