The operator of the group home where Suggs lived previously settled for $900,000.
His sister, Carrie Weaver, hailed the verdict last week. “I’m very, very disappointed that it’s taken so long,” she said in a telephone interview from her South Carolina home. “I hope and pray no one else has to go through what I’ve gone through.”
Weaver cared for Suggs until 1967, when a court found him “feeble-minded” and “incapable of managing his affairs.” He was sent to Forest Haven, the District’s home in Laurel for the mentally disabled. He lived there until 1984, when he was sent to live in a Takoma group home operated by the nonprofit Symbral Foundation.
In the months leading up to his death, Suggs deteriorated rapidly.
After undergoing surgery to treat a severe bedsore, he developed gangrene in his foot, leading to the amputation of his leg. Within months, Suggs was hospitalized again with breathing difficulties and unsteady blood pressure. Suffering from a paralyzed diaphragm, he died on June 30, 2000.
A doctor who reviewed Suggs’s medical records shortly after his death suggested that a spinal compression in his neck could have contributed to the respiratory issues. An autopsy confirmed the connection.
The spinal issue was long known to the doctors and administrators overseeing Suggs’s care. As early as 1995, caretakers were aware of neurological issues after he began to lose the use of his arms. A District caseworker was notified of the concerns, but it wasn’t until 1997 that Suggs was examined by a neurologist, who suggested that spinal compression in the neck could be the cause of Suggs’s maladies. Weeks passed before an MRI confirmed the diagnosis.
Later in 1997, a surgeon recommended that Suggs undergo a serious but straightforward surgical procedure that’s a common treatment for spinal compression. But the team of doctors, nurses and District administrators overseeing his care sought a second opinion — a process that took more than a year.
By the time the District sought Weaver’s consent to proceed with the surgery, it was August 1999, and Suggs had deteriorated further. A third neurosurgeon weighed in that December, saying that the procedure would be unlikely to help Suggs. Within six months, he was dead.
In a February opinion granting summary judgment, U.S. District Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth found “deliberate indifference” in the District’s failure to ensure that Suggs received necessary care.