The state of New Jersey is paying out nearly $53 million in settlements with families of veteran home residents who died of COVID-19.
Each family will receive approximately $445,000 from the $52,955,000 total settlement.
The state was accused of gross negligence and incompetence in handling the early days of the outbreak in the state-run facilities.
“Cases settle for a variety of reasons. The families of those who have lost their lives to COVID-19 have gone through so much,” an administration official told NJ.com. “This settlement will hopefully allow them to move forward without years of protracted and uncertain litigation.”
According to their report, two of the veteran homes in the state, in Menlo Park and Paramus, had some of the highest COVID death tolls in the nation. Over 200 people died in the facilities, which are now under a federal civil rights investigation.
The facilities had, during the early days of the pandemic, refused to use masks or gloves because it “might scare residents.”
An email from a lawyer at the New Jersey veterans agency to a member of the Menlo home administration, obtained by the Wall Street Journal, described a plan to discipline workers who committed “mask insubordination,” meaning insisting on wearing one, with punishments ranging from warnings to suspension. The lawyer cited guidance from the governor’s office.
“A spokesman for Gov. Phil Murphy, Michael Zhadanovsky, said the policy applied only to state-owned masks and no employee was ever formally disciplined for wearing a mask,” the WSJ report adds. “The policy, which was never finalized, was meant to ‘ensure a consistent reserve of masks,’ he said.”
Lawyers representing the families also argued that the facilities waited too long before isolating those who were suspected or confirmed to have COVID. They also alleged that staff who tested positive were allowed to continue working, due to staff shortages — allowing the virus to rapidly spread.
“No amount of money can ever obviously replace the lives of the lost veterans, but my clients and I are satisfied that this settlement provides a good measure of civil justice and accountability,” attorney Paul M. da Costa of Roseland, who represented a number of families, told NJ.com.
The outlet obtained the terms of the settlement, which say that the state will “pay 60% of the settlement, or $31.7 million within 90 days of the receipt of all ‘closing papers’ from all plaintiffs in the case, including release and tax forms, as well as lien and judgment searches.”