State Has A Responsibility To Protect Society’s Vulnerable

A western New York family is suing the state of New York in connection with the death of their developmentally disabled relative in a state-operated group home. 

Christopher J. Kuhrt, 37, choked to death on his own vomit in December 2019. According to The Buffalo News, his family reports that he was not discovered by group home personnel until 10 to 12 hours after his death.  

Based on the Kuhrt family’s account, Christopher’s death is not just a tragedy. It is an outrage. 

The Kuhrts assert that Christopher’s group home told a series of lies about the events surrounding his death. First, when Christopher’s father, James Kuhrt, called the facility on the morning of December 14 to ask how his son was doing, an employee allegedly told him that Christopher was asleep. In fact, according to the autopsy, Christopher had been dead since the previous evening. Second, after Christopher was found dead, group home staff allegedly told the coroner that they had attempted to resuscitate him; the coroner insisted that the decomposition of Christopher’s body would have made this impossible. Third, and worst of all, group home personnel were required to check Christopher for signs of life every 30 minutes. While group home staffers had signed paperwork indicating that they had checked on Christopher as required, testimony from those staffers reportedly revealed that two of them had failed to do so. In fact, another employee testified that her co-workers would become angry with her if she checked patients for signs of life. One of the employees who allegedly falsified her records regarding Christopher’s signs-of-life checks was suspended for five months, but remains employed by the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD). 

A trial in the Kuhrt family’s lawsuit is expected to occur in the New York Court of Claims this month. If the Kuhrt family’s account of the situation is accurate, they should win the lawsuit.  

Families with developmentally disabled loved ones often trust state-run facilities with their loved ones’ lives. The state of New York must honor the trust and confidence that is placed in it by providing appropriate funding, staffing, training, and accountability at its facilities. Our developmentally disabled neighbors deserve nothing less.