The family of a 54-year-old Cayucos man who committed suicide last year while under the supervision of county medical staff is suing the county for wrongful death.
The suit alleges that workers at a county medical facility didn’t adequately watch him and allowed him the use of a sweatshirt with a cord attached that he used to kill himself.
Douglas Frederickson was last seen alive about 9 p.m. May 22, 2010, at the clinic at 2178 Johnson Ave. in San Luis Obispo.
He was found dead the next morning with the cord tightly wrapped around his neck, and authorities ruled out the possibility of a homicide, according to the lawyer for the plaintiffs.
Frederickson had sought help for severe depression and suicidal thoughts.
“He went to professionals for care and protection,” said Mark Boswell, the plaintiff’s attorney. “It was their job to keep watch and monitor him. They failed to protect him from himself.”
County lawyer Rita Neal called Frederickson’s death “sad” but said employees tried to assist him. Neal also said plenty of staff was on hand.
“They were doing a good job and following protocol,” Neal said.
Frederickson contacted the county’s mental health help line May 21, 2010, and later was admitted to the clinic on a 72-hour psychiatric hold.
California law allows authorities to evaluate and treat people for mental disorders for up to 72 hours if they’re a danger to themselves or others.
The suit — filed by Frederickson’s brother, Marc Frederickson, and his sister, Nancy Squire, on Feb. 7 in San Luis Obispo Superior Court — represents only one side of the story.
Doug Frederickson didn’t have a long history of mental illness, but in the months prior to his death, he’d been diagnosed with severe depression caused by a combination of factors, according to Boswell.
Those included the deaths of his mother and father within a year of each other and then 18 months of unemployment after working as a copy machine repairman for two decades.
Boswell said Frederickson had refused to sign a contract with county workers promising that he wouldn’t harm himself before voluntarily admitting himself into the clinic.
The suit claims that the county mental health clinic took away items such as Frederickson’s belt and shoelaces — but they didn’t stop him from wearing a maroon pullover sweatshirt with a cinch cord dangling from it, according to video surveillance from the hallway.
The plaintiffs also allege that two county staff members made repeated observations of him in his room, shining a flashlight through the door window.
During those checks, Frederickson was positioned diagonally on his bed with one foot on the ground and blood on his face, but workers didn’t examine him closely enough, Boswell said.
Boswell said Frederickson shouldn’t have been allowed to keep his maroon sweatshirt and should have been monitored more effectively by county staff during the night.
But Neal said Frederickson hadn’t been sleeping well, and county staff members wanted him to get rest and that’s why they didn’t disturb him.
In a legal argument in May over the question of liability, Judge Charles Crandall ruled that the county can be held liable for medical malpractice if the plaintiffs can prove their case.
But Crandall ruled against the county’s liability for any dangerous condition at the facility — such as any lack of surveillance cameras in the patients’ rooms or proper lighting to allow for bed checks.
A case management hearing is scheduled for Sept. 27 at 9 a.m. at San Luis Obispo Superior Court.