Drunk Suicide Award Remanded on Liability

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (CN) – The Alaska Supreme Court vacated a $1 million award to the mother of a 21-year-old man who committed suicide in jail, remanding to determine fault between the city and the deceased.
     Judy Bunyan sued the City of Hooper Bay for wrongful death in August 2012, the month after her “highly intoxicated” son Louis hanged himself with the drawstring of his sweatpants.
     Louis’s brothers had had to subdue him at their home and his sister called police because he was drunk and fighting with the family, according to the supreme court’s summary of the case.
     His mother acknowledged that Louis was drunk, and said he was a suicide risk. She said Hooper Bay police records documented prior suicide threats, but the officer who ran a records check failed to find that information.
     She claimed that an officer who checked Louis’ pockets and clothing failed to remove the drawstring from his pants, and failed to notice scars on his forearms, which indicated prior self-harm. Nor did they check on him every 5 minutes, as required for drunk detainees, as the two jailers on duty were “browsing Facebook,” the mother claimed.
     Louis was found hanging in his cell just after 5 a.m. She claimed the city was negligent.
     A jury found that Louis’ suicide attempt and death were “reasonably foreseeable” and awarded $1,078,233 in damages.
     The Alaska Supreme Court concurred on the issue of reasonable foreseeability, but not on liability. It vacated judgment and remanded for determination of responsibility. Chief Justice Dana Fabe wrote that Louis’s level of incapacity due to alcohol had not been properly determined and would likely affect damages.

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