Mom Says Lawyers Let State Waltz on Liability

     ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) – The mother of a Virginia man strangled in a state hospital says in court that her former attorneys fumbled a “slam-dunk” wrongful-death suit.
     Justin Davis found himself in a maximum-security unit of Central State Hospital in Petersburg, Va., after his October 2009 arrest on drunken-driving charges, the complaint filed last week in Alexandria City Circuit Court states.
     The unit, dubbed Ward 8, is reserved for “violent or extremely aggressive individuals,” Davis’ mother, Denise Wilkins, alleges.
     Wilkins notes that her son’s killer, George Phillips, was admitted to Ward 8 “while facing felony charges for attempted capital murder.”
     When Phillips entered Davis’ room on the evening of Feb. 27, 2010, and strangled him, a nurse and technician were supposed to have been monitoring patients, according to the complaint.
     Wilkins says the technician was supposed to sit in a yellow chair where she could observe patient movement and check rooms every 15 minutes.
     At the time of Davis’ death, the technician missed those monitoring checks during the nearly 45 minutes she spent watching television in a different area of the facility, according to the complaint.
     When the technician finally did check Davis’ room, she allegedly failed to notice that the man was dead.
     Wilkins says she retained attorneys Gregory Lattimer and S. Howard Woodson III to represent her in a wrongful-death action in October 2011, right around the time Phillips pleaded guilty to Davis’ murder.
     A hospital investigator had concluded “Staff Neglect Substantiated,” but a federal judge threw out her case at summary judgment, according to the complaint.
     At the summary-judgment hearing, the court allegedly flagged major problems with the case Lattimer and Woodson had filed.
     “You should have sued the lady who was supposed to sit in the yellow chair,” the judge said, as quoted in the complaint. “That is the person whose error or whose inattentiveness led to the death in this case. And if you had sued her, you would have a slam dunk. And I think the state probably has insurance to cover that.”
     Instead of suing the technician, the earlier case had taken aim at a new director of the hospital who “had no supervisory role at the time of Davis’s death,” according to the complaint.
     When the Fourth Circuit affirmed dismissal of the wrongful-death suit, one of the appellate court’s judges allegedly expressed concerns to D.C. Bar Counsel about “Lattimer’s handling of the case as well as his candor to the court.”
     Wilkins says the D.C. Bar Counsel told her it was investigating the matter.
     The mother’s latest lawsuit names as defendants Lattimer and Woodson, and their individual law offices.
     Now represented by Paul Mickelsen with Tate, Bywater, Fuller, Mickelsen and Tull, she seeks $5 million for negligence and breach of contract. Tate Bywater is based in Vienna, Va.
     Lattimer and Woodson have not returned requests for comment.

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