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Mother's wrongful death case dismissed because son used an illegal drug

Cindy Romeos sued the Salvation Army after her son was expelled on his first night from a residential drug and alcohol center, in a compromised state, variously described as "incoherent," "erratic," "barely able to walk," "spacey," "unable to understand," and "slobber[ing]."  The man was a heroin addict.  After expulsion, he called a girlfriend and asked her to take him in search of drugs, and then apparently consumed some amount of heroin before suffering a cardiac arrest. The lab work performed after his arrest showed that his system contained heroin metabolytes from earlier consumption, and multiple doses of Ambien.  It was Ambien abuse that had resulted in his expulsion from the treatment center and apparently contributed to his death. 

Romeos maintained that it was negligent for the facility to throw the young man into the street in such a vulnerable state.  The Court summarily dismissed her wrongful death claim, ruling that pursuant to the "wrongful conduct" rule, the treatment facility owed no duty to the boy because he had violated a penal or criminal statute by illegally possessing a controlled substance (the Ambien in a dose greater than he was administered by the facility, and heroin that was apparently consumed at some point).

The Court also rejected the decedent's mother's argument that the Defendant was culpable in the death because it never secured a state license to operate a substance abuse treatment facility.  The judges ruled that the facility's unlicensed status was essentially unrelated to to the death and "inconsequential" to the wrongful conduct rule. 

It makes sense that someone using drugs should not be able to sue another party for self-inflicted injury, normally.  Nevertheless, if an agency holds itself out to the public as capable and willing to treat addiction, it should owe a reasonable duty of care in providing treatment to addicts.  The court in this case has entiely dodged the mother's legitimate claim that this facility assumed a semi-professional duty to her addicted son, which duty it then breached.  If you advertise that you can provide shelter and treatment to addicts, you should have some responsibility if you throw one on the street in a vulnerable, compromised state.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
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