A D.C. Superior Court jury awarded $80,000 yesterday to the estate of a deaf woman who spent 57 years in the District's home for the mentally retarded.
Lawyers for Mattie Hoge, who died Sept. 27 at age 75, argued that she was not retarded and that she had been improperly diagnosed by the city in 1929 when she was admitted to the District Training School, the forerunner of today's institution at Forest Haven.
The jurors, who listened to almost a month of testimony and deliberated almost two days, rejected that claim. They based their verdict on the District's violation of the federal Human Rights Act.
In addition to her deafness, Hoge suffered from the debilitating effects of a stroke she had in 1966 and used a wheelchair. Her lawyers argued that her physical therapy had been inadequate or, in some cases, lacking entirely.
Assistant Corporation Counsel Kenneth Marty argued during the trial that the assessment of Hoge in 1929 and 1930 had not been negligent and that she was indeed retarded and needed constant medical attention.
Barbara Sosnick, one of Hoge's lawyers, said she was disappointed that the jury apparently believed Hoge was at least mildly retarded.
"This was a tragedy," Sosnick said of Hoge's life. "She was just put away, deprived and forgotten for all those years."
District lawyers declined to comment about the case.
Hoge was examined by the city in 1929 and 1930 and pronounced severely retarded. One of Hoge's witnesses, psychologist McKay Vernon, said the tests used then were inappropriate even for that time, and he said virtually any deaf person would have scored low.
Vernon testified that he examined Hoge and found that her IQ was at the lower end of the normal range.
Vernon also testified that the professional staff at Forest Haven had neglected Hoge by failing to place her in an environment where she could communicate with others through sign language.
"To deprive a person of information for more than 50 years of her life is, short of physical torture, about the worst thing you could do," Vernon said.
During closing arguments, Russell Canan, another of Hoge's lawyers, said that "life dealt Mattie Hoge a very bad hand." He said that she grew up in a single-parent home and that her mother died when she was 12.
At age 7, she entered the Maryland School for the Blind at Overlea, which also taught deaf children. After her mother died, she became a ward of the District, and at age 17, she was declared "feeble-minded" under then-current laws and committed to Forest Haven, Canan said.
After her initial evaluations in 1929 and 1930, Hoge was not examined again until a judge ordered tests for all of Forest Haven's residents in 1978, Canan said.
When Hoge died, the District was preparing to comply with a court order that she be moved from the institution to a group home.