By KEN RITTER, Associated Press
LAS VEGAS (AP) — A Nevada jury put the state and a former mental hospital administrator on the hook Thursday for class-action damages that could range from about $9 million to more than $22 million for putting patients on buses in Las Vegas for one-way trips to cities around the country.
An eight-woman jury deliberated less than three hours after a two-week trial before deciding unanimously that every Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital patient who was given a Greyhound bus ticket to another city and no other arrangements for care after June 2011 should receive $250,000.
State law could cap damages at $100,000 per plaintiff, or $8.9 million.
State Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Martha Framsted said the jury decision will be appealed.
The judgment could top $22.5 million if the cap is waived, said attorney Mark Merin, a Sacramento, California, lawyer who represented plaintiff James Flavy Coy Brown.
Brown was the subject of an award-winning investigation in 2013 by the Sacramento Bee that brought to light what the lawsuit derides as “Greyhound therapy.”
“There are at least 371 people in the class. We have been personally in touch with 89 of them,” said Merin, who took the case to Clark County District Court after a federal judge dismissed an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit in 2014.
Brown, then 48, and diagnosed with psychosis, told reporters in Las Vegas in 2013 that he arrived “homeless, confused and anxious” in Sacramento after a 15-hour bus ride from Las Vegas. After a day on the streets, hospital emergency room officials found him space at a psychiatric hospital. Brown was later reunited with his daughter in North Carolina.
Merin said he heard similar stories of indigent patients arriving in strange cities in every U.S. state and sleeping in bus stations, under benches and on the street if they were not arrested or hospitalized.
“Maybe now the state will talk about a settlement,” the attorney said. “If they don’t win on appeal, they’re going to have to face this verdict.”
State Attorney General Adam Laxalt’s office issued a statement noting the issue came to light before Laxalt took office in 2015, and that his “client” defendants included Southern Nevada Mental Health Services and the state Health and Human Services Department.
The jury found negligence on the part of officials including the now-retired mental health services administrator Chelsea Szklany.
Laxalt, a Republican, is running for governor to replace term-limited GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval, who reached a $400,000 settlement of a lawsuit that San Francisco officials filed in 2013 over similar patient dumping allegations involving 24 people.
Rawson-Neal opened in 2006 as the only state psychiatric facility in Las Vegas following years of complaints that mentally ill people were clogging emergency rooms at for-profit hospitals in southern Nevada.
The region now has 2.2 million of Nevada’s nearly 3 million residents.
State officials reported in 2014 that Rawson-Neal treated an average of more than 6,000 people per year during a five-year span, and that nearly 1,500 patients had been provided bus transportation out of the state.