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Family Gets $1.875M In Ant-Bite Death

Elderly man was in nursing home

Mar 11, 2005 | Florida Today The wife and children of a retired postal worker who died from hundreds of fire ant bites in a local nursing home nearly four years ago will receive almost $2 million for their loss.

Mariner Health Care, the nation's third largest long-term health care company, has agreed to pay the wife and children of Earl Dean Griffith $1.875 million. They settled the case in Brevard Circuit Court a week before the case was scheduled to go to trial.

"After several years of fighting and denying responsibility despite the overwhelming evidence, they went ahead and settled the case," said the family's attorney.

The settlement should send a message to other nursing homes to follow federal law requiring them to keep their facilities free of pests, he said

"They've got to put patients' care and security and protection ahead of the almighty dollar," the Griffuth family lawyer said.

This is the second time in five years a nursing home company settled a wrongful death case stemming from a fatal ant attack.

Quality Health Care settled with the family of Mary L. Morales Gay for a undisclosed amount, said the lawyer for the Gay family. She died after she was bitten 1,625 times by fire ants in a North Port nursing home.

"I know that there have been numerous accounts of nursing home residents severely injured or killed as result of fire ant bites," he said.

Griffith, 73, had been recuperating from surgery at Atlantic Shores, 4251 Stack Blvd., Melbourne, exactly a month when ants swarmed his bed and bit him in the early hours of July 26, 2001. The surgery had left the Rockledge man partially paralyzed, unable to roll over or get out of bed on his own, the Griffith attorney said.

Forty hours later, Griffith died of shock from the amount of ant poison in his body, the medical examiner's report said. His back, arms, chest, neck, head and shoulders were covered in ant bites.

The family sued Mariner Health Care six months later, in January 2002.

Records and sworn depositions showed that the 120-bed Atlantic Shores had a fire ant infestation for years. The pest control company came out weekly to spray for fire ants in patient rooms.

During lawsuit negotiations, Mariner Health care sold Atlantic Shores to Sovereign Healthcare in 2003, which replaced the management, said Trudy Venette, the new administrator for the nursing home.

Fire ants like medical facilities because there's always food around, said Richard deShazo, a professor with the University of Mississippi Medical Center who specializes in allergic reactions to insect bites. He also has been an expert witness in 10 ant bite cases. Most were in health care facilities.

"Many of us feel they see humans as food sources, because we've seen them go for areas of the body that are high in protein," he said. "Others feel that food products in the rooms attract them. The people who have died are old people who are debilitated or demented and not alert enough to withdraw when they get covered."

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