The state of New Jersey has agreed to pay close to $53 million to the families of the 119 residents who died after contracting COVID-19 at the beginning of the pandemic at the Menlo Park Veterans Memorial Home, in Edison, and a second state-run veterans home in Paramus.
The families had been preparing to file lawsuits against the state accusing it of gross negligence. The out-of-court settlement, the first of its kind, is expected to total roughly $445,000 per family.
A New Jersey official said the state government hopes the settlement "will hopefully allow them (the families) to move forward without years of protracted and uncertain litigation."
In legal filings for the case, families of the dead claim that staff members at the facilities were not allowed to wear masks until April 2020, to avoid scaring the residents. Additionally, both ill and healthy residents were allowed to congregate together, and staffers moved from room to room of the residence without taking the proper precautions to avoid spreading the virus.
The pandemic, especially at its outset, was particularly deadly for elder Americans residing in long-term care facilities in the U.S. Close to 200,000 coronavirus-related deaths have been reported among residents and employees of the facilities since March 2020.
Francisco Rodriguez, an attorney representing 31 of the families, said the agreement is "so far as I know, the first settlement in the U.S. related to mass Covid death at any kind of medical facility."
However, a flurry of similar suits are now pending across the country against private and state-run nursing homes.
New Jersey is expected to pay over 60% of the settlement (about $266,000 per family), and the rest of the award will be apportioned in a private arbitration process that is scheduled to be complete by July.
"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," said Paul da Costa, an attorney representing several of the families involved in the litigation with the state.