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Wisconsin to pay for wrongful death by suicide

It's not often one hears the word suicide in connection with a wrongful death lawsuit, but that didn't stop the mother of a patient who killed himself in a Wisconsin mental health institution from filing a suit. The man's mother accused members of the hospital staff of negligence in the lawsuit, which was dismissed by a Dane County judge last Thursday following a settlement agreement made between the man's estate and the institution.

Per the settlement, Mendota Mental Health Institute will be required to pay over half a million dollars to the man's estate. The 27-year-old man was in a seclusion room when he strangled himself to death with a sock in 2010. According to the lawsuit, the staff was supposed to check on the patient every 15 minutes but no one noticed his death for 18 hours.

After the 27-year-old's death, Mendota Mental Health Institute received a citation from the state Division of Quality Assurance for failing to "take reasonable steps to ensure the physical safety of all patients." The institute has agreed to require that its staff members check to make sure its patients are breathing during security checks and to improve its staff training efforts. According to a Department of Health Services spokesperson, the institution has put a plan for improvement in place, but no staff members have received any disciplinary measures despite the death.

All loss of life is tragic, but a suicide carries a great deal of stigma and can be especially difficult on surviving family members. Compensation cannot bring a loved one back from the dead, but it is one way families can begin to move forward. More than providing a monetary award, winning or settling a wrongful death claim can provide survivors with a form of closure that promotes long term healing for all.

Source: Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, "Wisconsin to pay $562,500 after suicide at Mendota" No author given, Apr. 11, 2014

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