Parents sue hospital over son's death by suicide

May 26, 1993|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff Writer

The father of a man who committed suicide after leaving Howard County General Hospital's psychiatric ward sees his suit against the hospital and one of its doctors as a way of correcting an injustice.

Stephen Leibowitz and his wife, Karen Leibowitz, claim that Dr. Jerome Cripe and the hospital staff should have prevented their son from leaving the hospital. David William Leibowitz jumped to his death from a Columbia office building a few hours later.

The Leibowitzes, formerly of the Wilde Lake village of Columbia, are seeking unspecified damages in a suit they filed against the hospital and Dr. Cripe in Howard Circuit Court on May 18.

The couple, now of Reston, Va., say in the suit that the hospital and Dr. Cripe failed to meet the standard of care for treating their son.

"He was done an injustice," Mr. Leibowitz said. "I would want him to do this for me."

Through a hospital spokesman, Dr. Cripe and hospital administrators declined comment because the suit is pending.

David Leibowitz, then 22, was voluntarily admitted to the hospital's psychiatric unit on Sept. 16, 1988. He had a history of panic, confusion, agitation and a psychotic disorder, the suit says.

On Sept. 17, he walked out of the hospital and went to the 13-story Equitable Bank Center on Little Patuxent Parkway, where he jumped from the roof.

Mr. Leibowitz said his son told the hospital staff while being admitted that he feared he was going to commit suicide.

The Leibowitzes contend the staff was negligent for failing to classify their son as a suicide risk. Without the classification, he was not given "suicide precaution status" and was put in an unlocked room, the suit says.

The hospital staff did not provide the appropriate observation and security to prevent him from leaving the hospital, the suit says.

The Leibowitzes claim in the suit that they have suffered mental anguish, emotional pain and suffering, and loss of companionship because of their son's suicide.

The couple was awarded $100,000 in damages from Dr. Cripe -- David Leibowitz's treating physician -- by the state Health Claims Arbitration Board earlier this month, the suit says.

However, the couple is asking the court to nullify the board's ruling because it dismissed the hospital from liability and awarded only $100,000 in damages from Dr. Cripe, the suit says.

The Leibowitzes are active in Compassionate Friends, an organization for parents who have experienced the death of a child. Mr. Leibowitz is editor of one of the group's newsletters and Mrs. Leibowitz has led support group meetings.

Mr. Leibowitz said he and his wife plan to contribute any money awarded by a jury to a fund named after their son with the National Association for Mental Illness, which lobbies for research funding for depression and related illnesses.

The couple also wants to establish a music scholarship at Wilde Lake High School, where their son was active in the band.

"We don't like to think of him dying in vain," Mr. Leibowitz said. "We'd like to think some good can come of it."

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