Crime & Courts

Jury finds county not at fault after Wichita mental patient set himself on fire

Allen Rouse
Allen Rouse Courtesy photo

A jury on Friday found no fault by the Sedgwick County community mental health agency and one of its psychiatrists in the death of a patient who died after setting himself on fire.

“There wasn’t enough proof,” jury foreman Ricardo Montez told The Eagle at the Sedgwick County Courthouse.

Jurors were asked to decide a wrongful death and malpractice lawsuit brought by Allen Rouse’s sister, Margaret Black. The lawsuit was against Comcare, the county community mental health agency, and Rouse’s Comcare psychiatrist, Lin Xu.

The question for jurors: whether Comcare failed to provide adequate care for Rouse and whether Xu appropriately managed medicine prescribed to treat his incurable schizophrenia.

On April 23, 2015, the 55-year-old Wichita man drove his Ford Taurus to the National Weather Center at the University of Oklahoma campus in Norman, Okla. He rammed the car through the security gate, doused himself with a flammable liquid and burned to death in a loading dock area.

The verdict came around noon Friday. The jurors had begun deliberation late Thursday afternoon after hearing closing arguments for attorneys representing Rouse’s sister, Comcare and Xu.

Stephen Netherton, a lawyer defending Comcare, told jurors that “suicide can happen with the very best of care.” Evidence showed that “no one ever saw, or heard, anything that indicated Mr. Rouse was going to harm himself.” That included Comcare, Xu and Rouse’s siblings, Netherton said.

Comcare didn’t ignore Rouse’s sister’s phone calls and concerns, and the agency didn’t deny him services, Netherton said. “There is no fault in this case.” The agency checked on Rouse, Netherton said.

After the verdict, Netherton said: “Comcare continues to express its condolences to the patient’s family, and we’re grateful for the jury’s close attention to this case.”

Greg Young, a lawyer defending Xu, had argued to jurors Thursday that Rouse’s suicide didn’t result from malpractice because Xu met or exceeded the standard of care. It’s not a case of Rouse being lost in the system, Young said.

Xu could have had gone into a psychiatric practice with “a fancy office” but has instead worked for the community mental health agency for 20 years, Young said. For about 14 of those years, Rouse was her patient. “They had an excellent, trusting relationship,” Young said. She was consulting with Rouse as she provided the lowest, effective dose and adjusted his medication, Young said.

Rouse didn’t express that he was suicidal, and both Xu and his family were shocked after his suicide, the lawyer said.

After the verdict, Young emailed this Friday afternoon: “While it was a tragic event, Dr. Xu provided compassionate and skilled care to Mr. Rouse for 15 years. She wanted the jury to hear the details of her care. The jury heard it and agreed that her care was excellent. Justice was served.”

Rick Paul, a lawyer suing the mental health agency and the psychiatrist on behalf of Rouse’s sister, told jurors in closing arguments that Rouse went 110 days without effective medication from Comcare. Rouse didn’t get to see his Comcare psychiatrist for the last four weeks of his life despite his sister’s raising concerns with the agency as his condition deteriorated, Paul said. Rouse was reportedly hallucinating.

Paul contended that after about 15 years of providing services to Rouse, Comcare essentially abandoned him after he missed some appointments. That resulted in him not getting medication to stabilize his schizophrenia, and when it was resumed, the dosage wasn’t adjusted properly, Paul said.

Paul asked the jury to find damages for Rouse’s death. “He endured indescribable pain and suffering. Ms. Black has suffered as well. Their (she and her siblings’) brother burned himself to death.”

According to the detailed written instructions for the jurors, they had to decide whether the evidence, including testimony from contradictory experts, was “more probably true than not true.”

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