Family alleges 93-year-old woman poisoned at San Mateo assisted living facility

The family of a 93-year-old woman who was poisoned and died at an assisted living facility in San Mateo filed a lawsuit Thursday alleging elder abuse and wrongful death.

Trudy Maxwell was one of two residents who died in this incident.

Maxwell's daughter, Monica, said the purpose of the lawsuit is to shed light on her mother's case.

She hopes to prevent this from happening to anyone else.

"She was a strong woman having had 9 children, the matriarch of the family," Maxwell said as she described her beloved mother as a well-respected member of the community.

She said her mom was resilient, bouncing back when she fell and suffered bruises.

"She would heal from this stuff," Monica Maxell said. "We called her Wolverine because she'd heal herself all the time.  That was the nickname we had for my mom."

But there is now anger and sadness at the way Maxwell died Aug. 29. 

The lawsuit comes two days after an employee at Atria, an assisted senior living facility in San Mateo gave her and two other residents a commercial grade cleaning fluid to drink during breakfast.

"The time we had with her was really, really precious. Losing her like this and so suddenly was just devastating," said Maxwell. 

The Maxwell family shared these photos which showed the severe damage they said the detergent did to Maxwell's mouth and throat.

"They gave her something that was more toxic and more corrosive to her body than Drano would have been," said Niall McCarthy, the family's attorney. 

He said an employee poured the cleaning fluid into a smaller container and left it in the kitchen. Another worker poured the liquid into cups for residents to drink, the suit alleges. 

"Their job was to keep her safe and they snuffed out a life," said McCarthy.  

KTVU reached out to Atria but have not received a response.

In addition to Maxwell, another resident, a 93-year-old man also died after drinking the cleaning fluid. A third resident survived.  

The lawsuit said four days before the incident in San Mateo, a resident at Atria in Walnut Creek drank an unknown liquid left unattended in the kitchen. He became ill and died nine days later. 

Maxwell said the lawsuit is to get Atria to make changes, including  how they train and staff, to prevent this from happening again.

"This should have never happened to my mother or to anyone, so yes, I'm very angry, but I'm trying to put my anger into action," said Maxwell.

 McCarthy said  the case will likely go to a jury trial in about a year and a half.  

KTVU checked in with the San Mateo County District Attorney regarding criminal charges, who said the matter  is under investigation and he'll have a decision in a month or two.

Amber Lee is a reporter with KTVU. Email Amber at or text/leave message at 510-599-3922. Follow her on Facebook @AmberKTVU,  Instagram @AmberKTVU  or Twitter @AmberKTVU