$43.5 Million Ordered For Wrongful Death

Posted on Sep 09, 2010
   A Georgia lawyer and nursing home operator has been ordered to pay $43.5 million in a wrongful death lawsuit. The verdict against George D. Houser, 62 of Sandy Springs (a suburb of Atlanta), is thought to be among the highest in GA history against a nursing home operator.

   Houser filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this week, listing total assets at between $20 million and $100 million.

   The money will go to the estate of a man, 80-year-old Morris Ellison, whose family says negligent care at the Rome, GA nursing home led to his April 2007 death. The facility has been cited for numerous state and federal violations.

   Moreover, Houser, who operated Forum Group Corp. and Forum Group at Moran Lake Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center in Rome, faces federal charges filed in April for bilking Medicaid and Medicare of more than $30 million. Houser's wife, Rhonda Washington Houser, 46, is also named in the indictment, which says those Medicaid and Medicare payments were supposed to go to care for residents at Houser's three nursing homes.

   Federal prosecutor's allege that the Housers instead used the money to buy luxury cars and real estate, including a $1.3 million Atlanta home for Houser's ex-wife. No trial date has been set for the federal case. Houser's attorney could not be reached for comment.

   Houser, who was admitted to the Georgia Bar in 1972, is a Harvard Law School graduate, according to the Georgia State Bar.

   He represented himself in the three-day wrongful death trial at the Floyd County Superior Court in Rome. After the verdict, Houser was taken to the Floyd County Jail for two days for contempt of court.

   The suit alleges Ellison fell several times at the home, even breaking his hip. Neither Ellison's doctors nor his family were notified of his injuries. "He was severely neglected at the time of his death," said Stephen G. Lowry, an attorney for Loretta Terhune, Ellison's daughter, "malnourished and severely dehydrated."

   "Mr. Houser, through his companies, systematically drained the money and resources from his nursing homes (and) caused all sorts of shortages of food, water and medicine and basic supplies," Lowry added. One nursing home director testified that the facility lacked the money to pay it's staff or bills or to do laundry.

   Numerous inspections were done of the facility over several years by the GA Dept. of Human Resources, and they  actually closed the facility in May 2007 after an inspection found "Moran Lakes deficiences constituted violations of state and federal regulations, nursing home regulations, GA state health regulations, and National Fire Protection Association Life Safety Code Standards.

   The nursing home has since reopened under new management.