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Video evidence spurred $950K settlement in suit over Columbia activist’s death

Home surveillance cameras played a critical role in reaching a $950,000 settlement in a lawsuit over the death of prominent Columbia political activist and philanthropist Martha Edens.

Edens’ daughter, Dinah Cook, alleged in a wrongful death and survival action that her mother died as a result of the negligence of residential health care attendants with RMK Ventures Inc., which does business as Home Instead Senior Care. The case settled April 19.

Edens, who served on the Republican National Committee and as the national president of the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority, fell in her bathroom and broke both of her legs when an attendant, who was supposed to be watching her around the clock, left her alone on Dec. 10, 2014, according to the suit.

After the fall, two attendants “flopped” Edens onto her bed, where she remained in pain for more than two days before a friend stopped by and alerted Cook, who had her mother hospitalized, according to an attorney for the family, Eric Bland of Bland Richter in Columbia.

Edens suffered from dementia and was unable to tell anyone what happened to her before she died in a healthcare facility in October 2015. She was 87 and had wanted to live out her remaining days at home, Bland said.

His law partner at the firm’s Charleston office, Ronnie Richter, said Home Instead filed a report with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control stating that the company was unable to find any evidence that indicated Edens’ injuries were the result of a fall.

“This was a classic case of circumstantial evidence,” Richter added. “How do we prove that Ms. Edens suffered a fall because it was something they did or failed to do?”

Unbeknownst to the caretakers, Edens’ home was equipped with motion-activated video cameras, which showed Edens entering the bathroom with the help of an attendant, according to Richter.

“When it’s time for Ms. Edens to leave the bathroom she is unable to walk out on her own,” he said. “We were able to demonstrate that she walked into the bathroom and was never able to walk again.”

He added that the attendant admitted during a deposition that she’d left Edens in the bathroom to answer the front door and had instructed the octogenarian to “slide down the wall and wait on the bathroom floor.”

“We were able to pinpoint that this was the event” that led to Edens’ fall, Richter said. He described the attendant’s actions as “indefensible.”

Home Instead did not admit wrongdoing in settling the suit. Its attorney, Gerald Chambers Jr. of Turner Padget in Columbia, said he needed his client’s permission to discuss the case when he was reached by phone April 20.

The company’s $2 million insurance policy covered the settlement. Of the $950,000 payment, $750,000 was allocated to the wrongful death claim and $200,000 settled the survival action.

Bland Richter received $332,500, or 35 percent, of the total settlement as part of a contingency fee agreement with the Edens family.

Richter said the case underscores the importance of video evidence. Home Instead’s franchisor’s slogan – “You can’t always be there. But we can.” – would also be an apt description for home surveillance systems.

“If we didn’t have the video we would have been lost,” Richter added. “We would have been fighting a [DHEC] report that basically says, ‘We don’t know what happened.’”

Follow Phillip Bantz on Twitter @SCLWBantz


Amount: $950,000

Case name: Dinah Cook, as personal representative of the estate of Martha Edens v. RMK Ventures, d/b/a/ Home Instead Senior Care

Court: Richland County Circuit Court

Case No. 2015-cp-40-00604

Judge: Tanya Gee

Date of settlement: Approved April 19

Attorneys for plaintiff: Ronnie Richter and Eric Bland of Bland Richter in Charleston and Columbia, respectively

Attorneys for defendants: Gerald Chambers Jr. of Turner Padget in Columbia

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