A D.C. Superior Court jury awarded $750,000 yesterday to the children of a woman who died two years ago at the Washington Hospital Center after setting herself afire in her hospital bed.
Gloria Jean Pass, a 35-year-old unemployed woman who was being treated at the hospital for a liver ailment, had been strapped into her bed after three times attempting to leave the hospital on Nov. 11, 1980, according to her attorneys.
Pass suffered second- and third-degree burns around 4:30 a.m. Nov. 12 after burning off her restraints and running from her room into a hospital corridor, wearing a synthetic fur coat that had been set afire, the attorneys said.
Pass had been admitted to the hospital from the House of Ruth, a home for battered women in the city. Attorneys for her three children, two of whom were living in foster homes at the time, contended that hospital officials failed to supervise Pass adequately to ensure that such an incident would not occur.
Attorneys for the hospital denied during the three-day trial that the hospital had done any wrong, arguing that Pass had caused her own death. Pass died three weeks after the incident in the hospital's intensive care burn unit.
Attorney James Schaller, representing the hospital, said the verdict "constitutes something of a slap in the face to what I consider to be a very fine medical institution that did its very, very best for this woman."
Schaller said he plans to appeal the verdict.
Samuel M. Shapiro and Mark A. Winkler represented Nettie H. Dunn, Pass' sister living in Durham, N.C., who brought suit against the hospital on behalf of the three children.
Shapiro said Pass was originally admitted to the hospital Nov. 7, 1980, complaining of problems keeping her balance. He said she was placed on "large doses" of a sedative, Librium.
He said Pass apparently had concealed matches before being restrained to her bed and contended in court that "the hospital knew she had a tendency to do such things, but didn't search her."