Former Candidate for Governor Settles Wrongful Death Suit; More

Wayne J. Guglielmo, MA

Disclosures

November 26, 2018

Malpractice Settlement After Mental Illness Leads to Death

Last month, Virginia state senator R. Creigh Deeds, who was his party's nominee for governor in 2009, settled a wrongful death suit against a mental health worker charged with gross negligence and medical malpractice, an October 17 story reports in the Washington Post.[1]

On November 18, 2013, Deeds, a Democrat, sought and received a 4-hour emergency custody order for his son, Austin "Gus" Deeds, who had a history of mental illness and suicide attempts. In seeking the court order, the senior Deeds explained that his son had been exhibiting troubling behavior.

Brought to Bath Community Hospital in Hot Springs, Virginia, Gus Deeds waited several hours before the Rockbridge Area Community Services Board, a public agency, sent a mental health worker to evaluate him.

The caseworker didn't finish evaluating the young man until the 4-hour custody order had nearly expired. Determining that Gus Deeds did in fact meet the criteria for hospitalization, the evaluator—who the suit claims knew or should have known of Deeds' mental health history—began calling around for a psychiatric placement while the local judge who had granted the initial custody order extended it for 2 more hours.

But the mental health worker failed within this 6-hour window to find a facility that had a psychiatric bed available, despite a later claim by the plaintiff that there were in fact hospitals in the general area with open psychiatric beds.

Gus Deeds returned home later in the day. The following morning, he stabbed his father 13 times and then shot himself fatally with a rifle. The elder Deeds needed 3 days in the hospital to recover sufficiently from his wounds before being discharged.

Initially, Senator Deeds had filed a multiparty claim that sought $6 million in damages; besides the healthcare worker, he had sued both the state of Virginia and the Rockbridge Area Community Services Board. He later dropped the state from his suit, though, and the Bath County Circuit Court judge overseeing the case ruled that, as a public entity, Rockbridge was protected from liability by Virginia's sovereign-immunity rules.

Last month's settlement with the healthcare evaluator, who was the remaining defendant, was for $950,000, which will be covered by the state's risk-management fund.

"My son is dead," Senator Deeds said in a statement released after the settlement. "No amount of money can make that right, bring him back, or fill the hole in my heart. Our nation is built on personal responsibility. The legal process, which relies on financial damages, is the means by which that notion of personal responsibility is enforced. It's not a perfect process."

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