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Judge rules Riverbend is not immune from wrongful death lawsuits

Posted at 5:07 PM, Aug 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-21 19:28:53-04

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A federal judge has ruled against Riverbend Post Acute Rehabilitation's request to be granted immunity from wrongful death lawsuits.

At least 12 lawsuits have been filed against the Kansas City, Kansas, facility where several residents have died from COVID-19.

The lawsuits claim the facility was negligent and didn't follow infection control protocols.

According to court documents, Big Blue Healthcare, the parent company for Riverbend, argued the facility is protected from lawsuits pertaining to COVID-19 under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act, also known as the PREP Act.

John Rollins, an attorney who represents some of the families, said the PREP Act has nothing to do with the lawsuits filed against Riverbend.

"The court ruled the statute doesn't apply to the claims we're making in our lawsuit," Rollins said.

The PREP Act was intended to give drug manufacturers the ability to rush a vaccine to the public without fear of being sued during the H1N1 outbreak.

The judge ruled the PREP Act does not pertain to the allegations against Riverbend.

"This lawsuit is about Riverbend's failure to protect its residents from the invasion and spread of the infection within the facility," Rollins said.

The 41 Action News Investigative Team obtained an inspection report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid that determined the facility didn't follow infection control protocols. It also flagged Riverbend for placing residents in "immediate jeopardy," which is the most severe violation a long-term care facility or nursing home can receive.

The judge also ruled against Riverbend in its request to have the case moved to federal court. Typically, federal court is a better option for defendants.

The I-Team reached out to Riverbend about the judge's ruling, but a spokesperson did not respond by Friday afternoon.

"They definitely need to be held accountable," Rollins said. "Lives were lost — lots of lives were lost."