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CHAMPAIGN — A Champaign law firm has filed suit against the Champaign County Nursing Home in connection with the death of a 78-year-old resident who died after being left outside the home.

Spiros Law is now representing the family of Sonya J. Kington, a nursing home Alzheimer's patient who was left unsupervised and subsequently died of hyperthermia in June 2017.

Her body was found in an exterior courtyard on a hot day when the high temperature reached 87 degrees.

Ms. Kington's death was caused by hyperthermia brought on by exposure to hot weather, according to a report by Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup. Dementia was also a factor, he said.

At the time she was found in the courtyard, the report said, Ms. Kington was lying in direct sunlight, her skin was "very hot to touch" and she had vomit on both sides of her mouth.

According to an investigation by the coroner's office, video footage from inside the nursing home appeared to show Ms. Kington entering the courtyard at 1:47 p.m. It isn't until about 5:15 p.m. that staff members are seen searching for her.

The report noted that the investigation "could not account for Ms. Kington's whereabouts" during the more-than-three-hour period, although one staff member, who was later terminated, said that she saw her around 3 p.m.

Spiros Law spokeswoman Keri Sutherland said Wednesday that the suit was filed against the nursing home "after their negligent conduct resulted in the avoidable death of one of their residents."

An investigation by the Illinois Department of Public Health revealed that staff members propped open the doors to the courtyard despite the facility's policy to the contrary, Sutherland said. These doors were to remain closed and alarmed given the cognitive status of the residents in the memory-care unit.

The suit alleges that the nursing staff at the nursing home "failed in their duty to provide the necessary services and treatments to prevent the death of Ms. Kington in failing to properly secure the facility and in failing to properly supervise Ms. Kington."

"When facilities decide to house residents with memory issues like Alzheimer's or dementia, the facility has a duty to implement protocols to ensure their safety," said Patricia Gifford, senior associate at Spiros Law .

"Unfortunately, there are many hazards and safety concerns for these residents, and extreme weather conditions, whether hot or cold, are one of these hazards and can be life-threatening to the residents," said James Spiros, a partner at the law firm.

The Illinois Department of Public Health fined the nursing home $25,000 in connection with Ms. Kington's death for failing "to ensure the door alarm to the courtyard on the facility's Alzheimer's Unit was engaged and the door not propped open."

Ms. Kington had been a resident of the nursing home for more than four years.


Tim Mitchell is a reporter at The News-Gazette. His email is, and you can follow him on Twitter (@mitchell6).

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