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Lockport couple settles suit over son's death in group home

Buffalo News - 2/2/2020

Feb. 2--Peter and Karen D'Angelo, a Lockport couple whose disabled son died in 2015 in a People Inc. group home in North Tonawanda, have agreed to a settlement of their lawsuit against the local human services agency.

Terms of the settlement are sealed, attorneys for both sides said, and People Inc. admitted to no wrongdoing.

"We saw an opportunity to provide closure for the family," People Inc. attorney Michael E. Appelbaum said Friday. "That's really what went into deciding to resolve it when we did."

"There is no admission of guilt since there has been no trial process," Peter D'Angelo said.

Trevor D'Angelo was born with phosphoglycerate kinase deficiency, a red blood cell disorder. He couldn't speak, walk or feed himself. When he was about 8, he underwent a laryngeal diversion in which the permanent tube was inserted into his throat as his only means of breathing.

His parents said in an interview with The Buffalo News last summer that the tube would kink and become blocked if he rolled onto his side while sleeping.

They believe that's what happened to Trevor in the People Inc. facility on Payne Avenue in North Tonawanda shortly before 6 a.m. on Aug. 28, 2015.

But People Inc. said the respiratory therapist on duty, Timothy P. Reid, was monitoring Trevor's breathing as he was supposed to.

The Justice Center for the Protection of Special Needs, a state agency, investigated the death and ruled allegations of negligence by Reid were "unsubstantiated," but hinted they had found something more they weren't allowed to disclose.

"The law, as currently interpreted, precludes the Justice Center from substantiating People Inc. and the Payne Avenue (facility) for neglect based on systemic problems identified during the investigation," the Justice Center wrote to the D'Angelos.

Their attorney, Joseph D. Morath Jr., filed a separate lawsuit trying to get the unredacted version of the Justice Center report, but a judge ruled against them last July.

Peter D'Angelo said he and his wife are working with a staff member for State Sen. David Carlucci, chairman of the Committee on Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, to create a bill to amend a state law that interfered with their lawsuit.

Under the law, the People Inc. site was technically not considered a residential health care facility because it was regulated by the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, not the Health Department, as a nursing home is.

Morath argued that a 2015 court ruling interpreting that law meant operators like People Inc. couldn't be held liable for injuries to clients, although Appelbaum disagreed.

"It isn't fair that our son, who was very medically fragile, because he was staying at a People Inc. facility governed by Mental Hygiene Law, would not be protected," Peter D'Angelo said.

"There was an independent investigation by the Justice Center that did not substantiate any allegations of wrongdoing," Appelbaum said.

"There was no need to make any changes in the way People Inc. operates because of the unsubstantiated nature of the allegations," he added.

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