Thursday, June 10, 2004

Claim against agency dismissed

Retarded man's death not negligent

By Sharon Coolidge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Ohio Supreme Court dismissed a wrongful-death claim against the Hamilton County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, saying its workers cannot be sued for decisions made as part of their jobs.

The family of a mentally retarded man, who died in 1999 from heat stroke in his apartment after MRDD case workers stopped making visits there to check on him, sued the agency claiming it should have reported to police that he had been neglected. And, they argued, that neglect caused his death.

But in a 4-3 decision, written by Justice Terrence O'Donnell, the court upheld lower court decisions that found MRDD was exempt from most lawsuits under Ohio's sovereign immunity law.

In asking the Supreme Court to allow the case to go forward, attorneys for Jerome Ridley's estate argued that the agency's sovereign immunity had been breached because the board or its employees violated state law.

That law requires social workers and certain other professionals to report abuse or neglect of a mentally retarded person to police or the local MRDD board.

The court said Ridley's estate did not demonstrate that the failure to report contributed to his death.

Attorney Raymond Katz, who represents Ridley's estate, said he would ask the Ohio Supreme Court to reconsider.

Ridley was living alone in an attic apartment under a plan of care provided by the MRDD. Two social workers who visited him several times each week to coordinate his day-to-day care had difficulty getting him to cooperate with health and safety guidelines, including opening windows and wearing appropriately cool clothing during hot weather.

Because Ridley was not cooperating with his independent living plan, the case was closed and the social workers stopped visiting his apartment in July 1999. Ridley was not called or visited by anyone from MRDD over the following two weeks, a period of extremely hot weather.

On July 28, Ridley was found dead of heat stroke in his apartment, dressed in multiple layers of clothing with his windows sealed closed and his door nailed shut.


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