The family of the autistic man killed at a group home for the mentally ill last month has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against several organizations that ran and/or staffed the facility.
As Lagniappe has previously reported, Matthew Cox was 21 at the time of his death, but his family maintains that his autism left him with the mental capacity of a 4-year-old. He was a resident of a group home located on Colonial Circle South.
Police say he was killed after a caretaker, 27-year-old Trent Yates, verbally abused him and “stomped” his abdominal area causing lethal internal injuries. According to the lawsuit, Cox suffered “severe internal injuries to his abdomen, internal organs, head, and brain.”
He later died while being treated at a local hospital for the injuries.
Last week, Yates pleaded not guilty to a murder charge related to the incident, but the Cox family is already moving forward with civil actions against Yates, the state-licensed facility where he worked and the network of business entities that hires, trains and supervises those employees.
The lawsuit was filed on Wednesday, Nov. 7, by Matthew’s mother, Heather Renee Cox, who was named the administer of her son’s estate following his Oct. 25 death. It is targeting a number of organizations as defendants and also leaves room to add others as the case proceeds.
The group home is owned by New Way Out Corp., which does business locally as Petway Residential Facilities Inc. The company owns around 20 homes in the area licensed by the Alabama Department of Mental Health [ADMH] as a “community provider.”
Those types of group homes operate in residential areas throughout Mobile County and are regulated by ADMH. However, the state allows these community providers to subcontract the operation of group homes they own to other companies, and state records indicate more than a dozen of the New Way Out group homes are operated by such subcontractors.
State certification records indicate the facility where Cox resided is managed by a subcontractor doing business as French Residential Facilities Inc., which is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit along with New Way Out.
French Residential appears to be a relatively new provider of services for the developmentally disabled. The only record of any site inspections at either of its ADMH licensed facilities in Mobile were related to “initial visits” during July 2017.
Both facilities received a 92 rating from ADMH inspectors, according to its website.
Other than Yates, another named defendant is AltaPointe Health Systems, which according to the lawsuit, was involved with the “management, assignment, support, training, oversight and control of Matthew’s housing, supervision and support.”
It also claims Altapointe was involved in assigning Matthew Cox to the home where he was fatally injuries.
However, while AltaPointe was unable to discuss the pending litigation, a representative said the organization’s involvement with most community service providers is only as a referral service for its patients.
“We deny any suggestion that AltaPointe had any involvement in the events leading up to this tragic incident. We do not own or operate this facility. We do not supervise or manage personnel involved with this housing unit. AltaPointe in no way should be charged with the events described in the lawsuit, “AltaPointe CEO Tuerk Schlesinger said in a written statement on Thursday. “We refer families to facilities certified by the state to provide care. We had no reason to believe this home was unsafe.”
A similar lawsuit was filed last year against another ADMH licensed group and Altapointe by the family of a severely autistic group home resident that sexually assaulted in downtown Mobile. The lawsuit, still pending in state court, claims the victim was one of several residents at the Agape House in Axix who were allegedly put up in a downtown hotel while staff members attended Mardi Gras festivities.
However, Schlesinger said that case also shouldn’t have involved AltaPointe, which was the case manager for the patient involved. He claimed bringing a lawsuit against a patient’s case manager is an unusual practice and accused the lawyers involved in both cases of “trying to find someone with deeper resources” to go after.
Schlesinger also said AltaPointe’s legal team is prepared to file countersuits against the attorneys who’ve brought these lawsuits for “defamation of character” and for causing AltaPointe to incur “unnecessary legal expenses” to defend itself in court.
Updated at 12:o7 p.m., Nov. 7, to add comments from AltaPointe CEO Tuerk Schlesinger