After his caretaker mother died about 20 years ago, Vernon Gray, a disabled man, was left living in an increasingly dilapidated home overrun by as many as 500 rats. Now the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services has agreed to pay the 64-year-old man $8 million for failing to check on him. It’s said to be the biggest settlement for an adult protective services case in the state’s history.
According to the Washington Post, one neighbor said rats could be seen “swinging from drapes and licking condensation off the windows.” They could be spotted outside the home too, scurrying through the tall grass of the lawn.
Neighbors grew concerned that the rodent-infested home was a health hazard to Gray and the surrounding area. They placed numerous calls to social workers to intervene. Agents first claimed they couldn’t determine Gray was actually in need of help. Another agent claimed the home was too unsafe to enter, and therefore closed the case rather than bring in more assistance to ensure Gray’s safety.
Police finally got involved in 2017, after he was found wandering in traffic, but by then Gray had lost the home where he had lived with his parents for so many years, after his property taxes went unpaid. He was also legally blind because of an undiagnosed and untreated case of glaucoma, according to the Seattle Times, and had a lice infestation.
Last Thursday, the Department of Social and Health Services agreed to pay Gray a record $8 million. A spokesman for the department admitted to KOMO News that they “dropped the ball”: “This is a tragic situation that happened. The agency dropped the ball here. We think the whole system dropped the ball. Again, we’re sorry this happened and hope this leads to an improved quality of life for him.”
Correction: Sept. 16, 2019, 5:11 p.m. ET: This story has been edited to remove unattributed text and to add fuller sourcing.