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Detroit Free Press
By Gina Damron, Free Press Staff Writer
July 17, 2008
The family of Vunies High -- sister of boxing great Joe Louis -- has filed a federal lawsuit against the company that owns an independent living facility in Southfield, claiming negligence led to High's death earlier this year.
The 92-year-old, who had Alzheimer's disease, was found dead outside the Heatherwood in February after she had wandered outdoors, according to her family.
High died of hypothermia, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in Detroit's U.S. District Court on Wednesday against Capital Senior Living Properties 2 -- Heatherwood Inc.
Capital Senior Living Corp., which operates senior living facilities across the country, is based in Dallas.
The lawsuit alleges the company is negligent for several reasons, including failing to monitor High when she left her apartment in the evenings, keeping her as a patient despite her deteriorating mental condition and failing to properly alarm emergency exits.
"It seems like something that could have been prevented," said Detroit resident Sidney High Jr., High's son.
David Brickman, general counsel for the company, declined to comment on the case Wednesday because he hadn't seen the lawsuit.
Richard Bernstein, an attorney for High's family, criticized the company, saying the Heatherwood is designated as an independent living center but has been providing services found at assisted living facilities, which are required to be licensed with the state.
Independent living facilities don't have to be licensed by the state and are not regulated by the state, said Colleen Steinman, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Human Services.
Brickman, who confirmed that the Heatherwood is an independent living center, likened the facility to an apartment complex.
But the lawsuit alleges that services, such as safety checks, shower assistance and medication reminders, were offered.
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