A state court jury in Arizona has awarded $36 million in damages to the family of a man shot to death by a mental patient in 2005 in a Wal-Mart parking lot. ValueOptions Inc., the company that held the state contract for providing behavioral health care until last year, was found 90% at fault in the death of 35-year-old Patrick Graham. Mr. Graham was one of two men shot by Ed Liu, a ValueOptions patient who has suffered from paranoid schizophrenia for more than 20 years.
In criminal court, Liu was found mentally incompetent to stand trial for the death of Mr. Graham and Anthony Spangler. The two men were employed by a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Peoria. The men were collecting shopping carts in the parking lot when Liu, who had been off his medications for nearly eight months, drove up and shot them without provocation. ValueOptions was accused of negligence for not following its own guidelines in caring for Liu.
ValueOptions held a contract with the State of Arizona to handle behavioral health care between 1999 and 2007. Diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic, Liu spent 20 years in the State’s mental-health system. Still, he functioned adequately while on medication. Based on trial testimony, he was conscientious in managing those medications. In December 2004, it was reported that Liu’s care provider at ValueOptions noted that his condition was worsening. Nonetheless, his appointment for that month was canceled, though he was running low on the multiple medications he took. No one from ValueOptions checked on him until May 2005, when a case worker knocked on his door and he did not answer. In a phone call the next day, Liu complained that he wanted to get back on his medications, but he failed to show up for a June appointment.
In August 2005, Liu bought a Glock semiautomatic pistol. According to trial testimony, he was apparently hearing voices and receiving messages from car license plates and CNN newscasts. On August 23, 2005, Liu drove to the Wal-Mart parking lot and shot Graham and Spangler. A witness took down his license plate as he drove away. When police arrested him, he had no memory of the incident. The State of Arizona and Liu also were named in the lawsuit. The State settled for $250,000. Liu’s own liability insurance policy paid an undisclosed amount. A separate lawsuit by Spangler’s family is still pending.
The jury in the Graham trial awarded damages and punitive damages of $10 million to the widow; $10.5 million each to Graham’s two children; and $2.5 million each to his parents. ValueOptions must pay 90% of the damages, to be divided between the Virginia-based corporation and its Arizona subsidiary. ValueOptions says it will appeal. Richard M. Gerry, a lawyer from Phoenix, Arizona, represented the Graham family and did a very good job.
Source: Arizona Republic
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