Mistreatment of Disabled Man Will Cost D.C. | Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, November 29, 2023
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Mistreatment of Disabled Man Will Cost D.C.

(CN) - The District of Columbia must pay $2.9 million to the estate of a mentally retarded man and ward of the state who did not receive needed medical care, a federal judge ruled.

Curtis Suggs was born in 1932 with severe physical and mental disabilities. From 1984 until his death in 2000, he lived in a group home, Symbral Foundation for Community Services, run by Leon and Yvonne Mohammed.

In 1995, Suggs lost strength in his upper extremities and became incontinent. A physical therapist recommended Suggs see a neurologist, but Symbral did not set up this appointment for two years.

Several appointment and testing delays later, a neurosurgeon recommended Suggs undergo a laminectomy to relieve pressure on his spinal cord due to severe spinal stenosis.

The Suggs Inter-Disciplinary Team, made up of representatives from the District of Columbia and Symbral, decided to get a second opinion four months later in March 1998. That doctor also recommended a laminectomy.

Symbral nevertheless waited until mid-1999 to request consent from Suggs' sister, even though the district could have signed the consent. She refused.

By the time Suggs saw a doctor again, in December 1999, a neurosurgeon determined that surgery would do little to help him. He never received surgery and died in June 2000 from stenosis-related complications.

David Harvey, the representative of Suggs estate, won partial summary judgment against the district and a jury awarded him $2.9 million in compensatory damages. Symbral and the Mohammeds settled out of court.

Chief U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth refused Wednesday to order a new trial on damages.

"The district has not shown that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence, that damages were excessive, or that the trial was unfair," Lamberth wrote.

D.C. argued that Harvey violated "the golden rule" by "asking the jury to put themselves in Mr. Suggs's shoes and imagine what it would feel like to have your body slowly deteriorate but lack the mental faculties to understand why," according to the ruling.

Lamberth concluded, however, that he could not find such a statement in the record. "Even if counsel did make such a statement, the district does not appear to have objected to it and thus did not preserve this argument," he wrote.

Lamberth also discounted claims that the plaintiff's attorney made a plea for punitive damages in the closing statement by citing the district's "responsibility" for Sugg's care and the jury's duty to "make them accountable for what they did."

In addition, the court refused the district's request to reduce the damages award to $250,000.

Although D.C. had been negligent in its oversight of Suggs' care, the estate must reimburse the city $600,000 for its expenses, the Washington Post reported .

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