The South Carolina Department of Special Needs and CHESCO Services have settled a wrongful death lawsuit brought by a man whose intellectually disabled brother died while in their care.
Michael Farrow was found dead on May 11, 2014 at a group home in Chesterfield County, according to the plaintiff’s complaint. Farrow was a long-term resident at the CHESCO-maintained facility, suffering from developmental disabilities and hypothyroidism. He required 24-hour-a-day care.
Just days before his death, Farrow suffered an unspecified injury to his inner thigh, for which he was treated with a topical ointment. An autopsy report said he suffered some sort of burn.
The complaint says Roxanne Johnson, his caretaker on the night of May 10-11, checked on him regularly throughout the night and dressed his bleeding and drained the wound with dry garments. It also says she reported seeing him pacing and having difficulty sleeping.
At 4:30 a.m., Johnson says that she found Farrow lying on the floor. She says she attempted to move him to his bed but was unable to lift him, so she left him there.
The complaint alleges that Johnson never told her supervisors about Farrow’s condition, nor did she call for emergency services.
Later that morning, after a shift change, Farrow was found unresponsive and not breathing, still on the floor. Police were called and he was pronounced dead at 9 a.m.
The coroner said that Farrow had toxic levels of Fluvoxamine in his system at the time of his death. Fluvoxamine was one of several drugs prescribed to Farrow. The drug is often used to treat obsessive compulsive disorder. The complaint does not explain how the fatal levels of Fluvoxamine got into his system.
However, Johnson was later charged with Neglect of a Vulnerable Adult in connection with the incident. Her case is currently pending.
The plaintiff, David Farrow, who is the brother of Michael, claimed that CHESCO Services and the SC Department of Special Needs were responsible for what happened to his brother. Lawyers for the defense, however, denied the plaintiff’s version of events and claimed that Farrow was not entitled to any damages because sovereign immunity protected them from liability.
The defense also cited passages in the South Carolina Code which said that government entities are not liable for their employees’ missteps unless they were deemed to be grossly negligent in hiring them, which they also denied.
Late last year the lawsuit went to mediation and a $250,000 settlement was agreed to in February.
While still denying liability, CHESCO Services agreed to pay Farrow and his lawyers $245,000. The SC Department of Special needs agreed to pay $5,000, while also denying responsibility.
A judge approved the settlement, and Farrow will receive $137,907.03 of the final amount. His attorneys will receive $112,092.97.
All of the settlement money was covered by the South Carolina Insurance Reserve Fund.
Representatives for Farrow, CHESCO and the SC Department of Special did not respond to requests for comment.
SETTLEMENT REPORT — Wrongful Death/Survival
Case name: David Farrow v. CHESCO Services and the SC Department of Special Needs
Court: Chesterfield County Court of Common Pleas
Case No.: 2016-CP-13-319
Date of settlement: Feb. 5, 2018
Mediator: Leslie A. Cotter, Jr.
Attorneys for plaintiff: Allison P. Sullivan & J. Clarke Newton in Columbia
Attorneys for defendants: G. Murrell Smith, Jr. of Sumter & William O. Spencer of Chesterfield County