|VIDEO| Arbitration Panel Awards $627K in Wrongful Death Claim Against Assisted Living Facility | Watch Arbitration on CVN

Posted by Arlin Crisco on Apr 24, 2024 1:48:44 PM

West Palm Beach, FL— A Florida arbitration panel found an assisted living facility responsible for the death of one of its residents and awarded more than $627,000 to the woman’s family, with the entire proceeding recorded by CVN. Gropp, et al. v. CP Palm Beach Gardens Development, LLC, et al., 2023-CA-010842.

The award, handed down by a three-member panel, caps a two-day arbitration over the 2021 death of Rita Iacobellis, weeks after she suffered a fall at The Madyson at Palm Beach Gardens. Iacobellis’ family claims the facility’s staff knew the 95-year-old woman was a fall risk, but failed to take appropriate measures to prevent the fall that broke her hip, required surgery and, they say, ultimately led to her death. 

The fall occurred as Iacobellis, who had dementia and had previously suffered a wound to her leg, attempted to take her seat in the facility’s dining room. And last week’s proceeding focused on what duty the facility owed to Iacobellis in ensuring she made it to the dining room table safely. 

In her closing, Fudge Broadwater’s Donna Fudge, representing The Madyson, reminded the panel of evidence she said showed that the staff met their duties for an assisted living facility, or ALF, under Florida law, in encouraging Iacobellis to be as independent as possible while performing her daily activities. 

“ALF residents are allowed to do things that they have a proven track record of being able to do independently even if there is a risk, even if there’s the potential that they may fall,” Fudge told the panel. “Because the law says we have to allow them to maximize their independence.” 

Fudge added that Iacobellis had a demonstrated history of being able to sit in a chair without additional assistance. “She did not need supervision to sit,” Fudge said. “She did not need assistance to sit in a chair.”


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But Gordon & Partners’ Scott Fischer, representing Iacobellis’ family, highlighted evidence he said showed the facility failed to provide her with a walker and an escort to the dining room, which records indicated she needed. And Fischer added that evidence showed the dining room was inadequately supervised or staffed.  

“They’re supposed to make sure that they’re brought to the dining area and seated,” Fischer said, referring to defense witness testimony on duties in moving residents to the dining area. “That’s what they told you was required, and they admit they failed to do it.”

After the decision, Fischer said he believed testimony from a nursing assistant that she pulled out the dining room chair for Iacobellis but did not ensure she safely sat was a key to the case.

“It was my argument that they only did half the job,” Fischer said. “Pulling out the chair was a good start, but then helping her sit safely in the chair and then scooted up to the table would have been an integral part of the process.”

In decades of covering civil litigation across the country, including gavel-to-gavel video coverage of hundreds of trials, this is the first arbitration CVN cameras have captured, providing attorneys unprecedented insight into the nuance of arguing these proceedings. Fischer, whose practice involves a large number of arbitrations in similar cases, told CVN that the speed at which the proceeding moves is one of the key differences between an arbitration and a jury trial. 

“We did, in two days of arbitration, probably what would have taken at least a week in court,” Fischer said, noting for example, that this arbitration ran 11 hours on the proceeding’s first day alone, with the inherent absence of jury breaks and sidebars pushing the pace. 

“I have to be ready, on my feet, to move quickly, have the witnesses lined up ready to go,” Fischer said. “When they call their experts, I have the impeachments ready to go,” he added. 

“It’s like doing a trial on fast forward because everything moves much more quickly.”

But Fischer said his approach to the case and its ultimate result remains the same. “They’re still accountable, and that’s my goal and my job is to make sure that, no matter whether we’re going to jury trial or binding arbitration, it makes no difference,” Fischer said. “Justice needs to be served.”

Fudge, representing the defense, expressed disappointment with the decision to CVN, saying she believed it ran contrary to the evidence and noting that the panel's decision was rendered on a 2-1 vote. 

Email Arlin Crisco at

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Topics: Florida, Gropp v. CP PB Gardens Development