Hospital, doctor appeal ruling on suicide Arbitrators awarded family $190,454

February 20, 1996|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,SUN STAFF

Carroll County General Hospital and one of its doctors have appealed the decision of a health claims arbitration panel holding them responsible for the 1992 suicide of a Westminster man.

In November, the panel awarded $190,454 to the family of Thomas H. Jenkins, who fatally shot himself in June 1992, hours after being released from a psychiatric evaluation at Carroll County General.

The panel ordered the hospital and Dr. James S. Choi of Sykesville to share $22,318 in pecuniary damages for each of his three children and $3,500 for his wife, Eva; and $120,000 in other damages to his daughter, Heather.

"The hospital feels that the care Mr. Jenkins received was appropriate," said Carroll County General spokeswoman Gill Chamblin. "We have filed an appeal and are seeking a jury decision in our favor."

But now that the hospital has appealed the decision by the state Health Claims Arbitration Office to Carroll County Circuit Court, the family is free to ask for more money, said the family attorney, Janet M. Truhe of Towson.

"The care rendered to Mr. Jenkins was amazingly deficient," said Ms. Truhe, adding that the family is asking for unspecified damages in court. "I believe this is a textbook case of negligence on the part of the hospital and the doctor."

Dr. Choi's attorneys were unavailable for comment.

According to the complaint, Mr. Jenkins was admitted to the hospital on June 25, 1992, after his wife requested that he be given an emergency psychiatric evaluation.

The complaint said Mrs. Jenkins told court officials that her husband had threatened repeatedly to kill himself and had become violent several times after the couple's marriage began to disintegrate.

Five days later, Dr. Choi discharged Mr. Jenkins, even though he had stated several times that he would rather kill himself than attend a domestic violence hearing concerning his wife that afternoon, the complaint said.

Dr. Choi "failed to complete a thorough and accurate history and otherwise failed to familiarize himself with the circumstances surrounding Mr. Jenkins' admission," the complaint said.

Family members also contend in the complaint that Dr. Choi did not properly evaluate the risk involved in discharging Mr. Jenkins, such as finding out whether there were firearms in the Jenkins home.

They argue that Carroll County General is liable because employees failed to give Dr. Choi clinical information that would have helped him assess Mr. Jenkins as a suicide risk.

In his response, Dr. Choi denied any misconduct and said that if the family was harmed by Mr. Jenkins' death, any fault lies with third parties not named in the suit, the hospital and the patient's medical condition.

Dr. Choi also said the injuries were "the result of the [family's] own and the decedent's own contributory negligence and/or assumption of the risk."

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