Judge denies University Assisted Living in Ann Arbor’s motion to dismiss case where woman in wheelchair fell to her death down stairs in unsecured stairwell

In a complaint filed by Olsman MacKenzie Peacock & Wallace against University Assisted Living, it is alleged that in 2019, the facility left the doors to the stairwells inside the building unmonitored and unsecured. University Assisted Living of Ann Arbor is an assisted living facility that houses elderly residents with memory care impairment. Because the stairwell doors were not secured, residents with memory impairment were able to access the stairwell. This posed a significant safety risk to the residents of University Assisted Living. Despite this safety risk and a request from its own Executive Director that the stairwell doors be secured, it is alleged that the owner of University Assisted Living, who was being paid thousands of dollars per month by each resident of the facility, refused to secure the stairwell because of the cost.

It is alleged that University Assisted Living’s decision to leave the stairwell unsecured resulted in a memory-impaired resident named Carolyn Dana Lewis being allowed to access the stairwell in her wheelchair. Once in the stairwell, Ms. Lewis rolled down the stairs. She fell to the landing at the bottom of the stairwell, with her wheelchair landing on top of her. The significant force of the fall caused her to suffer a subarachnoid hemorrhage, right superior and inferior pubic rami fractures, and a pelvic hematoma, from which she was never able to recover. Ms. Lewis died just 19 days later.

Ms. Lewis’ Estate filed a wrongful death lawsuit against University Assisted Living.

In January 2023, University Assisted Living of Ann Arbor tried to convince a Washtenaw County Circuit Court to dismiss Ms. Lewis’ lawsuit, claiming that Ms. Lewis was unable to prove that she fell down the stairs.

Attorneys Donna MacKenzie and Lauren Walson argued that the court should not dismiss Ms. Lewis’ case because surveillance footage showed Ms. Lewis wheel her wheelchair to the stairwell door and disappear from the camera’s view, only to be found by staff approximately one hour later, lying on the landing of the stairwell, motionless, bleeding and in excruciating pain, with her wheelchair on top of her body. MacKenzie and Walson argued that the circumstantial evidence clearly proves that Ms. Lewis fell down the stairs in the stairwell.

The Washtenaw County Circuit denied University Assisted Living’s motion. As a result, Ms. Lewis’ Estate will now be permitted to present her case to a jury and hold University Assisted Living accountable for negligently allowing its residents free access to the dangerous stairwells inside the building.