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Family of Slain Social Worker Sues Doctor

(CN) - The family of a social worker fatally stabbed by a deranged patient claims in court the facility overseeing the killer's treatment ignored numerous warning signs that he posed a danger to others.

Tracey Stevens, the sister of the victim, Stephanie Nicole Ross, sued Dr. Fay Cannon and Baycare Behavioral Health, in Hillsborough County, Florida, on Oct. 17.

The lawsuit comes nearly four years after patient Lucious Smith, 53, chased Ross onto a street near his supported housing unit run by Baycare, and stabbed her multiple times with a butcher knife.

A passing motorist took the 25-year-old woman to a local hospital where she died.

At the time of the attack, Ross was visiting Smith to ensure he was taking his medication for a "serious and persistent mental illness," when he suddenly became violent.

According to the complaint, Smith had not taken his medication for over a year, and was subject to frequent violent outbursts in the month leading up to Ross' death.

"Dr. Cannon and Baycare knew that Smith's decompensation was a serious safety concern for both Smith and those that might come into contact with Smith, but still Dr. Cannon and Baycare failed to take action and that failure cost Stephanie Ross her life," the complaint says.

Stevens says Smith threatened other healthcare workers, including Baycare employees, several times, and that in one incident, the man barricaded a social worker inside his unit with a couch and a chair and said he "wasn't a liar or thief but he wasn't afraid to kill."

Later that month, police pepper-sprayed Smith after he threatened them with a table leg.

Just seven days before Ross' murder, Smith threatened to rape a Baycare employee who visited his unit, the complaint says.

Still, Baycare and Dr. Cannon did not take any action, the suit claims.

"In these situations, Lucious has the tendency to become very violent and not able to cope in difficult situations," a case worker wrote of Smith at one point. "It appears that he is not willing to maintain his mental health at this time."

Smith also had a violent criminal history, spending time in prison for aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and battery on a law enforcement officer.

A Florida Dept. of Corrections psychiatrist diagnosed Smith with schizophrenia and anti-social personality disorder before releasing him to Baycare's facilities.

Smith remains incarcerated, though a judge ruled him incompetent to stand trial for Ross' murder.

Ross, a recent college grad, had only worked as a service coordinator for Integra Health Management, a Baycare service provide for a few months.

After her slaying, a judge fined Integra more than $10,000 for OSHA violations related to Ross' death. Ross' family sued Integra for negligence in 2014, but settled with the company.

It was during that litigation, which also listed Baycare among the defendants, that Ross' family saw Smith's medical records from Cannon and Baycare.

The family's attorney, Bradford Stewart, of Frost Van Den Boom P.A., said Baycare refused to settle and denied any liability in Ross' death. This lawsuit, alleging violations of Florida's medical malpractice laws, followed.

"There's a concurrent duty on entities like Baycare to make sure they aren't putting dangerous people in our communities," said Stewart, adding Smith's medical records show numerous warning signs about Smith's deteriorating mental health.

"They were almost indifferent to it," he said.

Ross' family runs a foundation in her name that awards scholarships and contributes to nonprofits.

A spokeswoman for Baycare declined to comment on pending litigation. Dr. Cannon could not be reached through the hospital.

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