$4.2 million verdict for lawyer who attempted suicide in psych ward

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A downtown lawyer who stabbed himself more than 30 times in a failed suicide attempt at a west suburban hospital has won a $4.2 million verdict, after convincing a Cook County jury this week that the hospital didn’t do enough to protect him.

Philip Sandler, 63, lost more than half his blood when he tried to kill himself with a knife in the psychiatric ward at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove in August 2007, said his lawyer, Elizabeth Kaveny.

“He was literally on the brink of death,” Kaveny said.

The jury deliberated for about four hoursTuesdaybefore reaching the verdict, Kaveny said.

Good Samaritan had the right procedures in place when Sandler arrived in an ambulance after a pill overdose on Aug. 3, 2007, but repeatedly failed to follow those procedures, Kaveny said.

“While we cannot comment on this case, our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the patient. We remain committed to providing the safest and highest quality care to every patient,” according to a statement from Good Samaritan.

Staff made a series of mistakes after Sandler arrived, including failing to find the knife in his pants pockets when he first arrived at the hospital, Kaveny said. Sandler later handed over the knife, telling hospital staff he might be tempted to use it. But Sandler secretly grabbed the knife from a storage bin when he told staff he needed to retrieve his house keys to give to his twin brother, Kaveny said.

Before stabbing himself, Sandler made another suicide attempt at the hospital — wrapping EKG wires and plastic tubing around his neck. That should have been a signal to staff that Sandler needed constant monitoring and a “high risk” rating, Kaveny said.

Instead, Sandler got a lower rating and periodic monitoring.

Sandler was still clearly suicidal, Kaveny said.

“The only thing he didn’t have was a plan,” Kaveny said. “He was clearly telling [staff], I’m still working on it.”

Two days after his arrival, Sandler asked for the possessions staff had earlier confiscated. Staff brought a bin full of Sandler’s things to him. The patient then removed the knife from the bin and hid it in his bed, Kaveny said.

Staff were supposed to check on Sandler every 15 minutes, but failed to do so, Kaveny said. A nurse discovered Sandler in a pool of his own blood in the early morning hours ofAug. 7, four hours after he began stabbing himself, Kaveny said.

“She slipped in the blood as she started to enter the room,” Kaveny said. “She screamed and ran out.”

Instead of a relatively short stay at Good Samaritan, Sandler underwent life-saving surgery there and then spent more than a year at Elgin Mental Health Center, before spending another five years at a halfway house in the Uptown neighborhood.

Sandler suffered brain damage as a result of the blood loss, and he no longer works as an attorney, Kaveny said.

“As of last year, he was able to move out of [the halfway house] and into an apartment, and is living independently,” Kaveny said. “He is not working or able to work, but is starting to build friendships again.”

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