The family of a Fort Washakie woman who died after her eye was gouged out by a fellow patient at a Lander hospital should not receive compensation for the resulting medical bills, according to the hospital.
SageWest Health Care in Lander, in a new motion in the lawsuit filed against it by the family of Elaine Tillman, said the $500,000 in medical payments sought by Tillman’s family are not allowed under Wyoming wrongful death laws.
Tillman died in Utah nearly two weeks after her eye was gouged out by Dubois man Patrick Lee Rose on Thanksgiving Day 2020 in the hospital’s emergency room. Both were being held as mental health patients in emergency custody, according to SageWest filings.
After the incident, in June 2021, Rose was released from custody in the Wyoming State Hospital due to limitations on Wyoming’s mental health confinement laws.
Tillman’s daughters June Louise Tillman and Cathy Ann Lucas sued SageWest Health Care in July 2021, about a month after Rose’s release. They claimed that Rose had a known violent history and was not properly supervised or restrained by the hospital.
Tillman’s daughters asked the court to order the hospital to pay damages for loss of companionship, emotional support and services Tillman may have provided them had she lived. Plaintiffs also asked for “hedonic” or compensation for the loss of joy of Tillman’s life.
Tillman’s family has also made claims for nearly $500,000 in hospital bills tied to the incident, according to a March 30 filing by SageWest.
But the hospital asked the judge to dismiss that claim, saying the bills, some of which are attributed to Tillman’s brief stay at the University of Utah Medical Center after her injury aren’t covered in wrongful death suits under Wyoming law.
“The evidence is uncontroverted that (Tillman’s daughters) have never seen, nor paid, any of the decedent’s medical bills,” reads the filing, adding that even SageWest hasn’t seen these outside bills itself, “just an itemization.”
“Therefore,” the motion said, “if the (daughters) were to recover for Mrs. Tillman’s last medical bills, it would be a complete windfall, which is not the purpose of awarding damages.”
SageWest also has asked the court to block the family’s request for “hedonic” reimbursement, which it says also isn’t covered under wrongful death suits in Wyoming.
SageWest argued further in its March 30 motion that Rose should be added as a defendant in the lawsuit, saying the Tillman family only sued the hospital “as a tactical and strategical move.”
SageWest claimed that the Tillman family lawyers do “not want (U.S. District) Judge (Nancy) Freudenthal to put Patrick Rose on the verdict as a non-party ‘actor’ for the jury to allocate and assess comparative fault to Mr. Rose,” reads the SageWest motion. “But, under Wyoming law, the Court must put Mr. Rose on the verdict,” to ascribe possible fault to him in a jury trial.
The Tillmans have not yet responded to the filing.
Another key argument in the lawsuit is whether Rose had known violent tendencies the hospital should have anticipated.
The Tillman family alleged that the hospital should have known of Rose’s propensity for violence and overseen him better while he was at the hospital.
SageWest argued that Rose’s gouging attack on Tillman was “unexpected and unforeseeable.” To advance this point, the hospital asked on Feb. 4 for psychiatric history documents for Rose dating back to 2007.
Rose’s attorney had provided documents covering a 37-day window surrounding the event, but the hospital said that was not enough evidence to argue the case.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Kelly Rankin on March 8 granted the hospital’s request for Rose’s longer case history.
Home to Dubois
According to court documents, Rose escaped his own room in the hospital, entered Tillman’s, jumped on the woman and gouged out one of her eyes with his thumb. He was attempting to gouge out her other eye when hospital personnel restrained him and called police.
Charged with second-degree murder, Rose was released in June of 2021 to live with his wife in Dubois because of provisions in Wyoming’s criminal and mental health confinement laws.
A Wyoming defendant cannot give a plea at a criminal arraignment until he is determined to be of sound mind. If he’s not sound of mind, he can be held under the state’s emergency mental health laws – but only until he no longer constitutes a threat to himself or others.
Rose has suffered for about two decades from an acquired brain injury caused by heavy metal toxicity, according to court documents.
Last June, a physician for the Wyoming State Hospital testified in Lander Circuit Court that Rose was no longer a threat under the law, but he could not be made sane enough to enter a plea.
The court released him into his wife’s custody.