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Friday, December 8, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Mom Loses Case Over Schizo Son’s Eye Gouging

CHICAGO (CN) - An Indiana woman whose schizophrenic son gouged out one of her eyes after he was kicked off Medicaid and could no longer afford antipsychotic drugs does not have a federal case, the 7th Circuit ruled.

Seth Land was attending Earlham College in 2007 when he was diagnosed with schizophrenia after stripping naked and burning his clothes in the middle of campus. Seth, who was molested by his father and paternal grandfather, was committed to a psychiatric hospital.

According to the complaint filed by Seth's mother, Sharon Land: "Since the Earlham incident, Seth has had a compulsion to strip and have sex with men. Seth has been self-destructive and violent to others when off psychiatric when off psychiatric medication. This has led Seth to extended incarceration periods, and also several lengthy commitments to hospitals. During one period of incarceration, he gouged out his eye with a toothbrush."

Though Seth was placed on Medicaid at the time of his diagnosis, he lost coverage in 2009 because a state social-services employee allegedly refused to process his renewal application.

An ostensible computer glitch led the agency to repeatedly ask Land for resubmission of the same documents. Sharon Land says she tried to sort out the problem at the Family & Social Services Administration office, which she allegedly visited multiple times for weeks.

Without Medicaid, the Lands could not afford the $800-per-month antipsychotic medication and Seth's mental condition quickly deteriorated, according to the suit.

On May 15, 2009, after Land had gone to bed, "Seth came in and said his voices had told him to gouge out her eyes, and he did, despite plaintiff's valiant attempt to protect herself. In the ensuing fight, he also broke one of plaintiff's fingers, a rib and her nose, one eye was fully gouged out and the other, and surrounding tissue, was severely damaged," the complaint states.

Once incarcerated for the attack and given appropriate medication, Seth stopped having violent outbursts, according to the complaint. He was approved for Medicaid shortly thereafter.

Sharon Land sued Indiana and IBM, which took over the state social services agency on a $1.3 billion contract, claiming that the agency's failure to process her son's Medicaid application caused the violent outburst.

U.S. District Judge William Lawrence dismissed the case, determining that the connection between Seth's attack and the defendant's inaction was too remote and that Land was not treated differently from other similarly situated individuals.

Finding no basis in federal law for the case, the court said Land could refile with state-law claims.

The 7th Circuit affirmed last week.

"Although there is no denying that Land suffered a wrong, it is not one for which federal law provides a remedy," according to the court's unsigned opinion.

Indiana and IBM are currently locked in their own litigation over privatization of the Family & Social Services Administration, a contract that Indiana ended seven years early because of ongoing issues. The state says IBM's bungled installation cost taxpayers "hundreds of millions of dollars."

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