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Neck Injury Compensation 10 Years in the Making

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Washington, DCAs far as neck injury compensation goes, this settlement was a long time coming—and while the individual upon whose behalf the lawsuit was fought and subsequently won, the outcome can at least bring some closure to the family of Curtis Suggs.

The Washington Post (5/2/12) reported earlier this month on what is deemed as the largest verdict against the District of Columbia over a negligence case involving a mentally disabled resident of a DC home for the disabled. A jury in a US District Court in DC awarded $2.9 million to the family of Suggs, who was deemed to have a neck injury that complicated his health and eventual death in the year 2000 at the age of 68.

According to the Post report, Suggs resided at Forest Haven, a home for the mentally disabled run by the District in Laurel. Suggs suffered from cerebral palsy and what were described in the report as "profound developmental disabilities." The man lived there from 1967 until 1984, when he was moved to a group home located in Tacoma run by a not-for-profit foundation.

Breathing difficulties experienced by Suggs—for which he was hospitalized—was thought to have been complicated by compression in his neck. That was the opinion of a doctor who reviewed the man's medical records following Sugg's death. An autopsy of the deceased man confirmed the doctor's findings.

What troubled Suggs' family, and the reason why they sought the services of a neck injury lawyer, was the suspicion that the neck and spinal issue was allegedly known to doctors and others overseeing the care of the man as long as five years before his death. In 1995, according to the report, Suggs began to lose the use of his arms and his caregivers suspected neurological issues.

However, it wasn't until 1997 that a neurologist was consulted, who suggested a spinal compression in the neck—in other words, a neck injury—may have contributed to Suggs' difficulties. A subsequent MRI confirmed that hypothesis, and later in 1997, a surgeon suggested a routine (albeit serious) surgical procedure to correct the problem.

Rather than proceed, various doctors, nurses and administrators charged with Suggs' care on behalf of the District sought a second opinion.

That subsequent opinion—which would help form the basis of a neck injury lawsuit—took more than a year. Consent for the surgery was finally extended in August 1999. By this time, Suggs had been suffering from the condition some four years, and had deteriorated further. In December 1999, a third neurosurgeon opined that the recommended surgery, at that point in time, would be unlikely to benefit the patient, such was his condition.

Suggs died within six months, on June 30, 2000.

"As the lengthy inaction by Mr. Suggs's [District government] case manager makes clear, no reasonable juror could find that the District of Columbia's monitoring of (The Symbral Foundation's) care for Mr. Suggs was anything but negligent," US District Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth wrote in his judgment. He cited "deliberate indifference" in the District's failure to ensure that Suggs received necessary care.

The family received $900,000 in neck injury compensation from a previous settlement with the operator of the group home.


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