Lawsuit filed after patient dies at mental health facility - WSMV Channel 4

Lawsuit filed after patient dies at mental health facility

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

The state is facing yet another lawsuit over the death of a patient inside the Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute, and the Channel 4 I-Team has also confirmed a six-figure payout went to another family over another death inside the facility years ago.

The lawsuit filed this week comes after a nine-month investigation by the Channel 4 I-Team that began after the death of Cody Skelton.

Skelton's parents and siblings now join other families, like the family of David Keele, in suing the state. Both Skelton and Keele were patients inside the institute.

"I think this family is really interested in finding out the truth of why this happened," said Matt Hardin, attorney for the Skelton family.

An ongoing series of Channel 4 I-Team investigations first exposed how Skelton, who had threatened to harm himself, was left alone long enough to drown himself inside the institute in November 2011.

Disciplinary records uncovered by the I-Team show Skelton should have been checked on every 15 minutes, but he wasn't observed for hours.

"Some of their own politics weren't adhered to," Hardin said.

Now, the I-Team has obtained a May 2012 ruling from the court of appeals that awarded the family of former patient Charles Lehman more than $100,000.

Lehman's family sued the state after the mentally ill man ingested half a bottle of Lucky Tiger aftershave inside the institute and later died from the effects of acute alcohol poisoning.

All families' complaints echo the same theme: their loved ones weren't properly watched or cared for.

The I-Team's investigations also uncovered several photos of staff sleeping while at work instead of watching patients, and disciplinary reports cite employees for failing to observe patients and cases of abuse.

The Skelton family lawsuit now makes four pending legal actions against the state over the deaths of patients.

"I believe part of the reason Cody Skelton's family wanted to bring this lawsuit was to ensure that this doesn't happen to another family," Hardin said.

The Channel 4 I-Team reached out to the state Department of Mental Health for comment on the latest lawsuit, but they have not yet returned our call.

In addition to suing the state, the Skelton family is also suing a private company whose doctors and nurses were working at the state institute that day.

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