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Archive for Thursday, August 26, 2010

Lawsuit over death at retirement home settled

August 26, 2010

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— A Reno County civil lawsuit filed last year by the family of an 85-year-old woman who was sexually assaulted and killed while living in a Buhler retirement community has been settled.

The lawsuit against Sunshine Villa Inc., Buhler Sunshine Home Inc. and its administrator, Keith Pankratz, was filed in January 2009 by the estate of Pearl Arthaud, the 85-year-old woman who was strangled to death in her bed May 18, 2008, by Marvin J. Gifford Jr.

Gifford, 46, housed in the El Dorado Correctional Facility, is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole for Arthaud’s death and attacks on two other elderly women in Reno County.

A hearing in the civil case scheduled for Wednesday in Reno County District Court was canceled, as the two sides have reached an agreement, District Judge Tim Chambers confirmed. Terms of the settlement are confidential, however.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Arthaud’s heirs, sought $510,000 in damages, including $250,000 for wrongful death, $250,000 for pain and suffering and $10,000 for funeral expenses.

The lawsuit claimed officials at the retirement community failed to take appropriate precautions to protect Arthaud after she’d reported a man entered her apartment and attempted to have sex with her. Arthaud had reported to Buhler Sunshine Home staff she awoke to find a man in her bed in March 2008, and he left after she refused his advances and asked him to leave.

Retirement-home officials were accused of being negligent by failing to investigate the attack, failing to warn other residents and staff of the attack, and failing to provide additional security in the retirement community. In a response to the lawsuit, Sunshine officials denied the allegations, arguing they had no control over Gifford’s actions or the events that led to Arthaud’s death.

A motion in the civil case filed July 29 also sought punitive damages for Arthaud’s heirs.

Matthew Bretz, the local attorney representing Arthaud’s estate, obtained sworn testimony from Gifford, who admitted attacking and sexually assaulting elderly women in 2008 in the Hutchinson area. According to the motion, Gifford also admitted to being in Arthaud’s Buhler Sunshine apartment twice before killing her in May 2008: once pretending to be a friend of her son, and a second time when he attempted to sexually assault her after she found him in her bed.

Gregory S. Young, a Wichita lawyer representing Buhler Sunshine Home, said Gifford’s statements to Bretz contained many inaccuracies that contrasted with his confessions to law enforcement, including his claim Arthaud’s door was locked and that if there were security at the retirement home he would have gone elsewhere.

“Ultimately the parties resolved it as everyone agreed that Mr. Gifford’s crimes were horrible and it was unfortunate for everyone involved,” Young said in an e-mail to The News.

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