[h4]Mother of crash victim wins $1.8M from methadone clinic[/h4]
NEWFANE - A Massachusetts for-profit methadone clinic has agreed to pay the family of an 8-year-old Jacksonville girl close to $1.8 million after she died in a 2005 truck crash involving a patient from the clinic.
Stephen Fairchild, 24, of Putney, had been treated at the Community Health Care Inc. clinic in Greenfield, Mass., earlier in the day on April 4, 2005, and his autopsy results showed that the level of methadone was "peaking" at the time of the head-on accident, which killed Fairchild and Kayla Lackey during the Route 9 accident in Marlboro.
Lackey was a passenger in a truck driven by her mother, Erin Lackey, 32, along with her two cousins, Joshua O'Hearn, 4, and Jacob O'Hearn, 12. They were on their way to Brattleboro in their grandmother's truck to pick up their bicycles at a local shop.
Fairchild was westbound at the time of the head-on crash; his pickup collided with the Lackey truck in its lane. Erin Lackey is the executor of her only child's estate.
The Lackey estate had sued Community Health Care Inc., which is based in Chicopee, Mass., and Dr. Walter Slowinski of Putney because of their care of Fairchild, who had a long history of heroin abuse and erratic driving, according to the suit filed in 2007 in Windham Superior Court. The case against Slowinski, who prescribed anti-anxiety medication for Fairchild while he was on methadone, settled out of court in January, according to court records. Autopsy results also revealed recent use of cocaine and marijuana, according to court records.
Attorney Rolf Sternberg of Bennington said Friday the conditions of the settlement of the suit precluded him from disclosing the name of the defendants in the case.
But he said the suit focused on what responsibilities the clinic and Fairchild's personal physician had in monitoring his behavior, given the drugs that were prescribed to him.
"Clinics will tell you they perform a public service," said Sternberg. "Their responsibility is to monitor what other drugs were being prescribed," he said. In addition to the methadone, Fairchild was on Klonopin, an anti-anxiety and anti-seizure medication and trazodone. Together, Sternberg said, the drugs had an "additive effect" that impaired Fairchild's ability to drive a vehicle.
The clinic failed to adequately monitor Fairchild after they gave him "take-home" bottles of methadone - violating their own regulations regarding such bottles - the suit said, yet the clinic continued to let him take the drugs home.
"I hope there are changes by all clinics all across the country," Sternberg said. "What is astonishing, you can't just say you are treating a substance abuser without knowing what other drugs they are taking and what effects those drugs have."
Fairchild also missed required counseling sessions and other sessions, the suit stated, and the methadone clinic failed to follow through on its own requirement that Fairchild undergo blood testing because of numerous burn marks on his clothing and on his chest, which the suit said was "a classic sign of substance abusers."
Also according to the suit, Fairchild had a lengthy history of motor vehicle accidents and psychiatric outbursts, warning signs that were ignored.
The suit stated that Fairchild "smashed up his car" in August 2004, and was involved in a motor vehicle accident in 2003, and in January 2004 received numerous speeding tickets. In September 2001, he was found passed out by the side of the road.
Fairchild also reported that his prescription medications were either lost or stolen, another warning sign that went ignored, the suit said.
James Coffrin of Burlington, the lawyer for Community Health Care Inc., didn't return a telephone call seeking comment on the settlement.
Sternberg said Erin Lackey received a severely fractured arm in the crash, and the suit stated she had ongoing medical bills as a result of the accident.
He said the Lackey cousins escaped serious physical injury in the accident, but were traumatized from the incident.
Sternberg said that it took his law firm a long time to get access to Fairchild's medical records because there is a presumption of privacy and Fairchild was dead. The lawsuit was filed more than two years after the accident.
According to court records in Newfane, the Lackey estate had earlier sued the estate of Stephen Fairchild, and had reached a settlement in 2007 before suing the medical clinic and physician
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