|Thursday, July 17, 2003
|Amount revealed in teen death lawsuit
Agency, McCloskey family settle for $50,000
|Western State Hospital denied any liability in the death of the Rockbridge County 18-year-old.
By LAURENCE HAMMACK
THE ROANOKE TIMES
The state agency that runs Virginia's psychiatric hospitals paid $50,000 to settle a lawsuit that blamed officials at Western State Hospital for the death of John McCloskey.
When the case was dismissed earlier this month in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg, attorneys on both sides declined to say how much the state paid to resolve a lawsuit that initially sought $10 million.
But the Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services disclosed the amount this week in response to a Freedom of Information Act request made by The Roanoke Times.
McCloskey, a Rockbridge County teenager, suffered severe internal injuries at the Staunton hospital after he was arrested in December 1994 on charges of indecent exposure and disorderly conduct. He died 14 months later.
Western State denied any liability in the case, and an order entered July 1 by Senior Judge James Turk stated that "neither party will be considered a prevailing party."
The order also noted that each side will pay its own attorney fees and legal costs.
It was not clear how much McCloskey's family will receive when legal fees are deducted from the settlement. Jonathan Rogers, a Roanoke attorney who represented the family, was on vacation and could not be reached.
Efforts to reach members of the McCloskey family, who now live in Pennsylvania, were unsuccessful.
In March, Rogers said he had asked for $1 million from the state to settle the case, but the offer was rejected. At the time, Rogers said he was preparing to make a second proposal.
In an e-mailed response to the Freedom of Information request, the Department of Mental Health provided the settlement amount but declined to release a recommendation made by the ttorney eneral's ffice, saying that the document was exempt from disclosure because it involved attorney-client communication.
McCloskey's death was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner, but it was never determined who killed him.
Although details of how he suffered the injuries have remained murky over the years, the lawsuit filed by McCloskey's family claimed that the state hospital and its director were responsible under either one of two theories:
Either a staff member beat McCloskey so severely that a ruptured bowel caused the 18-year-old to vomit his own feces, the lawsuit alleged, or chronic understaffing and lax supervision at the hospital allowed a fellow patient to slip into McCloskey's cell and attack him.
As the case progressed, Rogers said that evidence pointed to the second theory as the more likely one.
The state has suggested that McCloskey might have received his injuries before he was committed to Western State, possibly at the hands of sheriff's deputies who were involved in his arrest.
A number of defendants, including the state, were dismissed from the case. At the time of the settlement, the lone remaining defendant was the estate of Lynwood Harding, who was director of Western State at the time McCloskey was injured but has since died.