Assisted-living facility settles wandering death suit for $2 million

Barbara Doyle, 74, was missing for nearly two weeks after wandering away from an Arkansas assisted-living facility

Barbara Doyle was missing for nearly two weeks after she wandered out of an Arkansas assisted-living facility on the same day she was admitted in August 2021.

The 74-year-old was found dead 13 days later in a wooded area “no more than one half mile” from the facility, according to a new lawsuit.

Though an employee saw that she’d left the building, they did not try to stop her or properly notify anyone about her exit, Doyle’s husband, Jack, alleged in a wrongful-death lawsuit. The complaint, filed in August in Benton County, Ark., named the facility, Brookfield Assisted Living, and its parent company, the Brookfield at Highland Crossing, as defendants.

On Thursday a judge approved a $2 million settlement in the case. As part of the agreement, no parties “admit or acknowledge any fault or negligence.”

Sean Keith, an attorney for Jack Doyle, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in a statement that the settlement gave “much needed closure” to the family.

“On behalf of the Doyle family I am thankful for the resolution to this tragedy and grateful to the community for the support that they have given since Barbara’s unnecessary death,” Keith’s statement said. “This case provided us an opportunity to do a thorough investigation into how this happened and why it happened.”

Attorneys for Brookfield Assisted Living and the Brookfield at Highland Crossing did not respond to requests for comment.

During Doyle’s initial assessment, an administrator noted that she had Alzheimer’s or dementia — with symptoms including a risk of wandering, the complaint alleged. Her husband was also told that Doyle would not need an ankle monitor while staying at the facility, according to the lawsuit.

She was admitted as a resident on Aug. 12, 2021. Doyle was only scheduled to stay at Brookfield Assisted Living for three days while her husband was visiting Ohio to see the First Holy Communion of two of their grandchildren, according to the lawsuit.

But despite the assessment, the facility “had no care interventions that were being implemented to protect” Doyle from her “risk of wandering,” the lawsuit stated.

Within three hours of being a resident, the complaint alleged that Doyle was left by herself.

Around 3 p.m. that day, the facility had a fire drill that lasted 15 to 20 minutes, the complaint stated. Around 3:02 p.m., Doyle was allegedly seen trying to exit the facility.

She opened a door that led outside, setting off an alarm, the complaint states. An employee saw Doyle, according to the lawsuit, but they did not stop, question or redirect her.

About a half-hour later, Jack Doyle came to the building to drop off luggage for his wife.

But he did not see her because “he did not want to upset her, understanding that if she saw him, she would want to go home with him,” the complaint stated. He left minutes later.

Brookfield Assisted Living staff realized Barbara Doyle was not in her room when they were taking the luggage to her, according to the lawsuit.

They called emergency personnel about an hour later, at 4:45 p.m., the complaint states, and then notified Doyle’s family that she was missing.

Her body was found on Aug. 25. According to the lawsuit, her cause of death was environmental heat stress. Her death certificate, under a section on how her injury occurred, read: “Subject with dementia wandered from care facility.”

Doyle “suffered physical injury, mental anguish, pain and suffering” that led to her death, her family alleged in the complaint.

After her body was found, Jack Doyle told KHBS that the family had been hoping for her to return safely.

“When someone is sick, you think you’re prepared for them to be gone, but you’re not,” he said. “When it happens, you’re not prepared.”

The lawsuit said that after Barbara Doyle’s death, the Arkansas Department of Human Services found that the facility had failed in multiple ways, including failure to “ensure the safety of a newly admitted resident with a diagnosis of dementia.”

Jack and Barbara Doyle had a routine of taking walks together every day, he told KHBS in August 2021.

He said he’d now have to make new routines without her.

“That’s not what I wanted to do,” he said. “I wanted to keep doing what we were doing.”

Read more by Praveena Somasundaram