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Family files 1st wrongful death lawsuit against Life Care Center in Washington over coronavirus outbreak

There have been 37 deaths tied to the senior living facility.

The daughter of a resident at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, has filed a lawsuit against the company that operates the nursing home for fraud and the wrongful death of her mother, Twilla June Morin, due to over 129 novel coronavirus cases and 37 deaths associated with the facility.

Deborah de los Angeles, the daughter of Morin, filed the lawsuit with King County Superior Court last week. She claims she found out her mother had contracted COVID-19 on March 3, and was notified 22 hours later of her mother’s death by a voicemail from the center.

Morin was 84 years old and had been at Life Care Center for almost two years. She was suffering from dementia and an autoimmune disease, which made her extremely vulnerable to coronavirus, de los Angeles said. Morin, a bookkeeper-turned-stock trader, was a loving mother and a proud grandmother, her daughter said.

Although de los Angeles prepared for the worst, she was stunned at the speed with which the virus took her mother’s life. "I had to sit there for a few minutes to try to absorb that information," she told ABC News. "I just couldn’t believe she’s gone."

The lawsuit claims Life Care Center was aware of a respiratory outbreak since January, but "lacked a clear plan of action leading to a systemic failure."

Instead of quarantining residents they held a Mardi Gras party and still allowed visitors to go in and out of the building, the complaint reads, alleging that it took the facility 17 days before reporting the cases to the authorities when it was required to notify King County of any suspected outbreak within 24 hours.

According to the complaint, when she asked where the resident physician was, one of the employees informed her the physician had not been on site for weeks.

"This company owns 200 plus facilities in the country," Brian Mickelsen, de los Angeles' attorney, told ABC News. "This is a serious threat to the caretakers and the residents and anyone who comes in contact with this facility."

As the location of the first COVID-19 outbreak in the country, Life Care Center Kirkland has come under intense scrutiny from the families of residents, as well as local and federal government.

Loved ones of residents at the center complained about the lack of communication from the staff, with many of them, including de los Angeles, alleging they were not immediately notified of coronavirus spreading inside the facility. According to the complaint, de los Angeles didn’t find out until Feb. 29, even though the first suspected case was discovered 10 days earlier.

"You’d figure they should know about this virus, the rest of the world knows, why doesn't Life Care know?" she said.

Life Care issued a statement in regards to the lawsuit, saying, "Our hearts go out to this family and the loss they have suffered during this unprecedented viral outbreak. We are unable to comment on specific legal cases that are pending, but we wish this and all families peace. The loss of any of our residents at Life Care Center of Kirkland is felt deeply by us."

De los Angeles said Life Care Center’s response was inadequate. She believes the facility did not prepare its staff with the proper equipment or training and when residents started falling ill they did not have effective protocols in place to deal with the crisis.

On March 16, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services performed a complaint survey at the facility and found Life Care Center no longer met the requirements as a service provider within the Medicare program concluding it failed to quickly identify and manage ill residents, notify the Washington Department of Health of the outbreak and provide an alternative plan when the primary clinician fell ill.

CMS said it found the "most serious deficiencies to be widespread and constituting Immediate Jeopardy to resident health or safety," and will be issuing a fine of $611,325 if Life Care Center fails to correct the infractions by Sept. 16.

On April 2, Life Care Center announced it had worked with CMS to remove three Immediate Jeopardy citations, and will continue to resolve their other concerns while providing the residents with the best care. In a statement, Life Care Center also pointed out it received a five-star overall rating from CMS in its last full survey.

De los Angeles is seeking compensation for general and special damages in an amount to be determined at trial.

She hopes the lawsuit will motivate the facility "to do the right thing by their residents, do the right thing by their staff," she said. "It’s not just Life Care, all nursing homes need to wake up and get their acts together."

The death toll in the U.S. surpassed 25,000 on Tuesday, with more than 3,880 residents of nursing homes -- based on data from the 13 states that are tracking nursing home deaths.

In an effort to help one of the nation’s most vulnerable populations combat this virus, a Federal Emergency Management Agency official told ABC News that FEMA is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and CMS to gather COVID-19 infection data from nursing homes to understand the scope of the problem and develop solutions.