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State to pay $950k to settle Deeds lawsuit.

Byline: Peter Vieth

A lawsuit over the 2013 death of a state senator's son that prompted Virginia mental health reforms has been settled for $950,000.

Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, D-Warm Springs, was severely wounded in the incident Nov. 19, 2013, when son Austin "Gus" Deeds first attacked his father with a knife and then took his own life.

Gus Deeds had been deemed in need of urgent mental health care 12 hours before, but an initial check failed to show any hospital beds available. Gus Deeds was allowed to leave a hospital despite being deemed a danger to himself and others.

The lawsuit on behalf of the Deeds family alleged that Michael Gentry, a mental health evaluator with the Rockbridge Area Community Services Board, stopped looking after he was unable to promptly locate a placement for Gus.

As the $6 million lawsuit advanced, the Deeds family dropped the state mental health agency as a defendant. Circuit Judge Paul Sheridan then ruled that the community service board was protected by sovereign immunity. Gentry was left as the sole remaining defendant, and Sheridan said he was entitled to qualified immunity. Thus, Creigh Deeds would have had to prove gross negligence to recover, according to his lawyer, Roanoke's John E. Lichtenstein.

Sheridan approved the settlement Oct. 10. Lichtenstein's firm took a fee of $300,000. The remainder after fees and costs was divided among five family members. The money comes from the state's risk management fund, not from a special appropriation or from the general fund, Lichtenstein said.

Reforms

"Since my son's death, this lawsuit, and much of my work as a legislator, has been about ensuring that people who struggle as he did, are less likely to wind up as he did, and more likely to receive the care they need," Deeds said in a statement released by the law firm.

The 2013 incident prompted reforms, Lichtenstein said. Now, a state hospital must accept a crisis patient like Gus Deeds if no other beds are available. State mental health facilities now maintain an up-to-date bed registry. The time period that a patient can be held on an emergency custody order has been doubled, to eight hours.

The incident "never would have happened today," Lichtenstein said.

Creigh Deeds added that he is proud of the annual seminars now held by the state Department of Behavioral Health to "better equip those who work in the trenches" to deal with people in crisis.

"Resolution of this difficult case saves my family from having to publicly relive a private tragedy, in a way that protects the dignity of my son's life. I cannot bring my son back, but it has been my intent that this case and our continuing work will bring care and real help to individuals and families who struggle with mental illness," Deeds said.

In a statement, Deeds' legal team said they had hoped the suit would be "a catalyst for positive change in crisis mental health services."

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Title Annotation:Virginia
Author:Vieth, Peter
Publication:Virginia Lawyers Weekly
Date:Oct 16, 2018
Words:504
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