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Eastern State Hospital settles patient death lawsuit for $360,000

Eastern State Hospital has paid $360,000 to settle a lawsuit over the 2013 death of a patient who family members said was assaulted by another patient.

The hospital reached a settlement with the family of Misael Rodriguez on March 30 after the family filed a $2.5 million wrongful death suit in 2014.

Rodriguez, 43, was a patient in the hospital’s forensic ward, where he had been referred for a mental health evaluation following an arrest in Benton County, said Kelly Konkright, one of the family’s attorneys. He was found bleeding and unconscious in a hospital bathroom on Aug. 26, 2013, and died that November at a long-term care facility without ever regaining consciousness.

The family’s suit alleged Rodriguez was attacked by another patient who was under extra observation by the staff at the time because he’d committed at least three unprovoked assaults on other patients in July 2013. Rodriguez was on location observation, meaning staff had to check on him at least once every 15 minutes because he was engaging in behavior making him “susceptible to assault by other patients.”

Video cameras from the hospital showed the other patient entering the bathroom shortly after Rodriguez. The suit said allowing the men to be together in a closed space with no observation violated hospital policies and safety procedures.

Rodriguez was found in the bathroom several minutes later with a cut above his eye and bruising on the other side of his head. Blood was also found on multiple walls of the toilet. The suit said an assault is the most likely explanation for the injuries found on both sides of Rodriguez’s head, but Eastern State Hospital and the Department of Social and Health Services, which runs the hospital, deny an assault took place.

“Law enforcement investigated the circumstances and found no evidence of criminal activity. The medical examiner determined the patient’s death was the result of natural causes,” the hospital said in a statement.

The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office was called to the hospital around 9 p.m., about four hours after Rodriguez was found, Sheriff’s Office spokesman Deputy Mark Gregory said. By that point, Rodriguez had been taken to the hospital and the bathroom had been cleaned.

“Everything had been cleaned up so there was no crime scene,” Gregory said.

Two doctors, one at Eastern State and one at the hospital Rodriguez was taken to, both said they believed Rodriguez fell and was not assaulted. Gregory said deputies interviewed staff and two patients who were in the bathroom with Rodriguez, then closed the case.

No autopsy was performed on Rodriguez, and the cause of death listed on his death certificate was pneumonia secondary to another illness or serious injury.

Konkright had not been retained by the family when the autopsy decision was made and wasn’t sure why no autopsy was performed.

“It was unusual. Usually under these circumstances an autopsy would be performed,” he said.

Konkright said the family agreed to settle the suit because their main goal was to bring attention to Rodriguez’s death.

“The goal wasn’t compensation, it was to bring light to the situation and try to get the hospital to take some responsibility,” Konkright said.

Joey Frost, a spokeswoman for the hospital, declined to say whether any policies or practices were changed following Rodriguez’s death, saying only that the hospital evaluates policies and practices following any “sentinel event” to “identify and mitigate any risk factors to prevent future occurrences.”

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