UC System Held Liable In Case of Suicide

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A jury slapped the UC system with an $8 million negligence fine Tuesday, the result of a six-year legal battle over the death of a 26-year-old man.

Sujon Guha, a Harvard University graduate who was locked in a ward of UCLA's Neuropsychiatric Hospital, hung himself with a belt on Thanksgiving seven years ago. His parents claimed he had no prior history of mental illness and that hospital neglect pushed him over the edge.

The parents, upset at the death of their son, spent years investigating the hospital before taking the case to court. Guha's parents took him to a UCLA emergency ward after he seemed agitated and paranoid.

UC attorney Peter Schneider, who oversees medical malpractice cases, said he respects the jury's decision.

"The jury has spoken," he said. "While we disagree, we support the jury system and we have to go with their verdict."

Although he did not rule out an appeal of the ruling, Schneider said he is unclear what the university's next move will be.

Dale Galipo, the plaintiffs' lawyer, did not return calls for comment yesterday.

At the trial, UCLA lawyers admitted to mistakes in handling the case but said these errors did not warrant a lawsuit.

Joe Hilberman, a lawyer with the Los Angeles law firm Fonda, Hilberman and Fraser, which represents the UC system in the case, said he was pleased that the jury did not hold individuals responsible or find the university negligent on more than one count.

Although the plaintiffs originally sued six doctors, three physical therapists, the UC Board of Regents and a mental health worker, the jury found only the hospital itself negligent in the case.

Hilberman said the plaintiffs originally tried to hold the university liable for murder, human experimentation and negligence, and claimed that workers covered up their role in Guha's death.

The jury, however, placed an $8 million price tag on the negligence count but did not rule in favor of the plaintiffs on any other charges.

"They raised several theories that were not valid and had no factual support," Hilberman said. "These individuals for years have been subjected to pretty severe allegations, but none of them have judgements entered against them."

The award was divided into $8 million for pain and suffering, $6,448.56 for the cost of the burial and $50,000 for monetary support he would have provided his parents.

The record-setting award may soon be significantly reduced under a California law which limits malpractice awards to $250,000, Hilberman said.

He said he will ask a judge to cap the reward, but he has not yet decided to appeal the case.

The suit is a result of the parents' unceasing efforts to uncover the circumstances surrounding their son's death, the lawyers said. They added that the parents have spent thousands of dollars looking into the matter and trying to find evidence that the hospital neglected Guha.


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