In a landmark decision on the issue of elder abuse, the state Supreme Court has ruled that family members and others can collect for the victim's pain and suffering even after their death.

The decision sets elder abuse apart from other situations, in which damages for pain and suffering can be collected only by the victim and become moot upon their death.The decision came in the case of Fred and Frances Denton, featured in the Arizona Republic's five-part series "Homes without Hope," which ran in June. It uncovered abuse, neglect and financial exploitation in adult care homes in Arizona.

"As a result of this decision, those who commit elder abuse and their insurance carriers will no longer profit by delaying the case until the victim dies," said A. Paul Blunt, attorney for Fred Denton. "Until now, that's just what they've done."

The unanimous ruling, issued Thursday, reversed a lower court's decision.

Fred Denton sued Paradise Homes in Phoenix for abuse and neglect and breach of contract over the care that his wife, Frances, received in one of its adult care homes. Frances developed a life-threatening bedsore while living at the home in 1993. The suit also names the home-health organization and nurse involved in Frances' care. Frances died in 1995.

Fred Denton said his motivation is not money but a desire to make care homes more careful.

"What I'm looking forward to whenever it comes to trial is, more than anything, that justice is done," Denton said. "Whether I get $10 or a million, I hope it will wake up these people."

Greg Michael, president of American Family Care Corp., which owns Paradise Homes, called the ruling "monumental" and said it will cause insurance companies to raise liability rates.