Oakmont Senior Living: Villa Capri plaintiffs suing over fire evacuation didn’t take ‘adequate precautions’

'Plaintiffs failed to use and exercise ... the proper care and precautions which a reasonable prudent person under the same or similar circumstances would have exercised,' attorneys wrote in their Feb. 20 response to the lawsuit.|

Attorneys for Oakmont Senior Living contend the former residents of a Santa Rosa care home who are suing the company bear responsibility for any harm resulting from the evacuation of the facility during the October firestorm.

The case’s 13 plaintiffs, who include elderly patients and family members, didn’t take “adequate precautions” that could have prevented the trauma they said they experienced while fleeing Oakmont of Villa Capri, attorneys for the company said in a recent response to the lawsuit filed in November. Company officials deny all allegations leveled in the lawsuit, which has claimed Villa Capri employees abandoned at least a third of the nearly 70 residents at the Fountaingrove facility as the inferno swept into Santa Rosa in the early hours of Oct. 9.

Villa Capri, a high-end assisted living and memory care facility, was destroyed by the Tubbs fire. Former residents in the suit said they only got out because family members went to great lengths to ensure everyone escaped after staff left them behind in the Fountaingrove facility.

Two residents survived the fire but died in December - one woman, blind and suffering from dementia, broke her hip in a fall at an evacuation shelter; another died of cancer but said she suffered extreme emotional distress as a result of her escape.

The suit seeks damages for alleged elder abuse, negligence, false imprisonment, emotional distress and wrongful death.

In their filing, Oakmont attorneys said any damages residents experienced were a result of their own actions or others who assisted them.

“Plaintiffs failed to use and exercise … the proper care and precautions which a reasonable prudent person under the same or similar circumstances would have exercised,” attorneys wrote in their Feb. 20 response to the lawsuit.

Villa Capri was managed by Oakmont Management Group and developed by Oakmont Senior Living, founded in 1997 by Santa Rosa developer Bill Gallaher. The lawsuit names Villa Capri and both Oakmont entities as defendants.

Neither Oakmont spokespeople nor the defendants’ attorneys could be reached for comment Monday.

The company’s filing said residents and family members lack the legal standing they need to sue and contended Sonoma County Superior Court, where the suit was filed, doesn’t have the jurisdiction to handle the case. A preexisting “valid and enforceable arbitration agreement” should control the outcome of the legal dispute, attorneys said.

In all, the Oakmont filing lists 34 reasons why the company is not responsible and shouldn’t be sued. Several place responsibility for any injuries or damages on the residents themselves or family members who helped them escape.

“They’re blaming the victims,” said San Francisco attorney Kathryn Stebner, who is representing the residents and family members in the suit. “My client who is demented and bed-bound somehow caused her own injury. … It’s preposterous.”

Penngrove resident Tim Callen, whose elderly mother was living at the facility the night of the fire, expressed surprise Monday that the company’s filing included what sounded like blame for the residents and handful of family members who helped them get out. His mother, Ruth Callen, is a plaintiff in the case who said she had to make her way down a flight of stairs on her own in the dark when she typically doesn’t walk without a walker.

“It was two in the morning. My mom’s 92,” Tim Callen said. “It’s her fault she couldn’t go down the stairs and there’s no one there to get her? That doesn’t even make sense.”

Tim Callen was grateful to the family members who went to the facility when they learned of the fire and helped get dozens of people out before the building burned.

“They did amazing things,” Callen said. “I’m just glad they were there.”

Had plaintiffs taken certain unspecified “adequate precautions,” they could have “avoided and/or diminished” any injuries they allege in their legal complaint, attorneys for Oakmont said.

Any damages they experienced stemmed from “the intervening and superseding acts” of themselves or others, the Oakmont filing said.

Attorneys further said Oakmont officials had “exercised due diligence and relied in good faith on the representations of others,” and they were “not aware, nor had any way of becoming aware, of any alleged wrongdoing or omissions.”

The Oakmont court filing asks for a judgment in favor of the company and to have its legal costs covered by the plaintiffs.

Stebner said she’d expected a response from the company to the lawsuit, but she didn’t expect it to amount to “blaming the victims.”

Depositions on the suit are expected later in the year.

Stebner plans to ask the executive director and owners “how my clients could have done things differently, and call them on the carpet,” she said.

Stebner is also representing a woman who claims Oakmont staff made no effort to evacuate her from an adjacent facility, Varenna of Fountaingrove.

You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 707-521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter@rossmannreport. You can reach Staff Writer J.D. Morris at 707-521-5337 or jd.morris@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @thejdmorris.

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