BEAUMONT – Although the case has already nearly dragged on for four years, a Jefferson County couple asserting their son killed himself while under a suicide watch while have to wait a little longer for a resolution, as the jury presiding over their med-mal trial are on break.
Individually and as representatives of the estate of Justin Holman, Kimberly Holman Bobb and Jerome Johnson filed suit against Baptist Hospitals of Southeast Texas and Dr. Ravikumar Kanneganti on May 22, 2014 in the Jefferson County District Court.
Right before the case went to trial, Kanneganti filed a motion to change venue on Feb. 16, asserting local prejudice due to news outlets and social media, chiefly the Southeast Texas Record.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Brian Mazzola had apparently posted Record articles on his Facebook page.
“Defendant recently learned of posts on social media pages that show incurable local prejudice in Jefferson County. Defendant discovered … that Mazzola posted inflammatory and derogatory articles on his firm’s website and Facebook page,” Kanneganti’s motion states.
“Jefferson County is a small community and the online nature of these articles makes them easily accessible and distributable by many of the potential jurors for this trial.”
Kanneganti argued psychiatric care and suicide are divisive topics that are “not well known or understood by the general population.”
The plaintiffs responded to the motion on Feb. 20, arguing that a social media post shared only 25 times cannot taint a county with an estimated population of more than 250,000 people.
Justin was admitted to Baptist on Oct. 9, 2013, after attempting suicide by overdosing on Valium. He was then transferred to the Behavioral Health Center where he came under the care of Dr. Kanneganti on Oct. 10, 2013.
Bobb was informed later that day her son was in a coma after again attempting suicide with items left in his hospital room. A housekeeper discovered Justin, who had been left alone, hanging from a sheet that he had threaded through the air-conditioning vent, according to court records.
Justin died Oct. 15, 2013.
The plaintiffs blame Kanneganti, a psychiatrist, for failing to take reasonable steps to protect Justin from self-inflicted harm, especially when considering his previous suicide attempt.
The case went to trial in February and jurors had been deliberating for a week when a break was issued on March 8 because a juror had travel plans, according to a courthouse official.
Deliberations will resume on March 19.
On top of exemplary damages, Bobb and Johnson are seeking medical expenses, damages and funeral and burial expenses.
Along with Mazzola, Joe House of the Houston law firm House Perron & House also represents the plaintiffs.
Kanneganti is represented by Mary Kathleen Evans, attorney for the Houston law firm Luccia & Evans.
Judge Justin Sanderson, 60th District Court, is presiding over the case.
Case No. B195-736