NW Democrat-Gazette

$2 million settlement ends wrongful death lawsuit against Bella Vista assisted living facility

Tracy Neal

BENTONVILLE -- A $2 million settlement has been reached over a family's wrongful death lawsuit involving the Bella Vista living facility where a woman wandered away and was later found dead.

The settlement agreement was filed Thursday in Benton County Circuit Court. Benton County Circuit Judge Christine Horwart signed an order Thursday approving the settlement.

Attorneys Sean Keith of Rogers and Tom Wagstaff of Overland Park, Kan., filed the lawsuit last year on behalf of the estate of Barbara Doyle against The Brookfield at Highland Crossing and Brookfield Assisted Living LLC.

"On behalf of the Doyle family I am thankful for the resolution to this tragedy and grateful to the community for the support that they have given since Barbara's unnecessary death," Keith said. "This case provided us an opportunity to do a thorough investigation into how this happened and why it happened. This settlement provided much needed closure to Jack and the Doyle family."

Brookfield did not admit or acknowledge any fault or negligence connected to Barbara Doyle's death as part of the settlement and continue to deny any negligence, according to court documents.

Doyle, who was 74 years old, wandered off Aug. 12, 2021, from Brookfield at 3 Highland Crossing Drive in Bella Vista. Her body was found nearly two weeks later about a quarter-mile from Brookfield, in the woods off Forest Hills Boulevard near the Presbyterian Church, during a search by volunteer members of the Benton County Search and Rescue team.

Doyle had been admitted to the facility for three days while her husband attended the first communion of two of their granddaughters in Ohio, according to the suit.

The lawsuit claims Doyle, who had dementia and Alzheimer's, was left unattended within three hours of her admission and left the facility by opening an exit door, triggering an alarm. An employee heard the alarm and observed Doyle leaving the facility by herself but did not confirm Doyle was a resident, the suit states.

The employee locked the door after Doyle walked out and did not notify staff of the situation, according to the suit.

Law enforcement and emergency services were notified at 4:45 p.m. Aug. 12, 2021, and her body was found 13 days later. The medical examiner's report listed her death as a result of environmental heat stress, according to the suit.

The lawsuit claims Brookfield was negligent by failing to implement measures to prevent Doyle from wandering off, provide adequate policies and procedures to address Doyle's care needs supervise its employees, comply with and follow the state regulations governing facilities such as Brookfield and provide a safe environment for Doyle.