LAWRENCE GETS DEFENSE VERDICT IN DELIBERATE INDIFFERENCE TO MEDICAL NEEDS CASE

This federal wrongful death case was brought by decedent’s wife and two daughters. Decedent Russell Cotton was 62 years of age at the time of his death at the Santa Barbara County Jail. During the three-week period prior to his death, decedent began behaving bizarrely, threatening members of his family, and having bizarre delusions. During that time period, prior to his final incarceration, he was involuntarily committed pursuant to Welfare & Institutions Code § 5151, was released from the hospital because of threats he was making, and was arrested and released and again arrested and released. On November 6, 2002, the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department and the Mental Health Assessment Team (MHAT) were on the lookout for decedent. He was located and taken to Lompoc Hospital at which time the on-call psychiatrist for the Santa Barbara County Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services was contacted, i.e., Dr. Irwin Lunianski, who ordered that decedent be medically cleared at the hospital and then taken to the Psychiatric Health Facility (PHF). Decedent subsequently kicked out the rear window of the MHAT vehicle, was arrested and taken to jail. At the jail, plans were made to eventually transfer decedent to the PHF; however, due to the potential for injury to decedent and those transporting him, a number of deputies would be required and the transfer was delayed. On November 7, 2002, decedent was being moved from an observation cell to another wing of the jail when he suddenly turned and started walking away from the custody deputy, stating “No.” That deputy shoved decedent against the wall to gain control and a struggle ensued involving a number of custody deputies. Deputies eventually subdued decedent and placed him in an observation cell, un-handcuffed. Shortly thereafter, deputies noticed that he was unresponsive and was turning blue. Decedent’s heart beat was restored and he was then taken to Cottage Hospital where he died several days later. The claim against Dr. Lunianski (the defendant represented by LBAC) was that his alleged deliberate indifference to decedent’s serious medical needs [heart disease and COPD] resulted in the death. Plaintiffs argued that Lunianski should have admitted decedent to the PHF where he would have been sedated and the subsequent fight with deputies would not have occurred. Lunianski denied having refused decedent admission to the PHF and LBAC obtained a jury verdict in Lunianski’s favor on May 7, 2010. See Cotton v. County of Santa Barbara, Case No. CV 03-07652 PSG (RZx).