$1-Million Settlement Due in Death of Six Retarded Persons

Special to the Times

The city government of Washington has agreed to settle a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by the families of six residents of an institution for the mentally retarded, according to attorneys representing both sides.

Under the settlement agreement, to be made public Monday, the city, which admits to no wrongdoing, will pay the families a total of $1.075 million.

Federal investigators said the deaths, which are the subject of an article in today’s Los Angeles Times Magazine, constituted the worst example of institutional abuse and neglect in recent U.S. history.

The Justice Department’s civil rights division had charged that at least nine residents of the now-closed institution, called Forest Haven, died between 1989 and 1990 as a result of substandard medical care after they contracted aspiration pneumonia, which is caused by feeding people while they are lying down.

The families of six of those residents later brought the civil suit against the city.


The settlement came after a senior city medical officer testified in a sworn deposition that the medical record of one of the residents who died was missing critical pages and appeared to be altered. It also followed the disclosure that the city’s own investigators had concluded that one of the institution’s doctors had provided substandard medical care to some of the residents who had died.

Steve Davidson, a partner with Steptoe & Johnson, which represented the plaintiffs on a pro bono basis in their D.C. Superior Court suit, said the agreement also requires the city to meet with the six families to discuss how to improve medical services in the future.

City officials declined further comment until public announcement of the settlement.

Forest Haven closed in March, 1991, after a long battle with the Justice Department, which first alleged in 1978 that the city’s treatment of the institution’s residents was inhumane.