Court orders new trial in Silver Hill suicide case
HARTFORD (AP) -- The Connecticut Appellate Court on Monday ordered a new trial in the case of a prominent psychiatric hospital, saying the trial judge failed to ask jurors if they were influenced by a newspaper story in finding that the hospital was not liable for a patient's suicide in 2002.
The court decision came in a malpractice lawsuit filed against Silver Hill Hospital and a psychiatrist after the death of Ruth Farrell.
The 41-year-old librarian from Westport, whose father was a former editor at The Saturday Evening Post, hung herself at the New Canaan facility, where she was being treated for depression and personality disorder, court documents said.
Farrell's estate filed the suit, and estate executor David Kervick of Westfield, N.J., who became friends with Farrell when they were patients at the hospital, appealed the jury verdict. Kervick was named executor of Farrell's $500,000 estate and a 50 percent beneficiary of her will several months before her death.
On appeal, Kervick alleged that Stamford Superior Court Judge David Tobin improperly rejected the request that the judge ask jurors whether they had read a New York Times story about the case and whether it influenced them. Tobin had given a general instruction to the jury to ignore media reports, and a court clerk had told jurors before the trial began to avoid media coverage.
Kervick's lawyer, Sandra Akoury, said the main issue was the right to an impartial jury.
Silver Hill's attorney, Catherine Nietzel, said the hospital likely will appeal Monday's ruling to the Connecticut Supreme Court. She said there is no case law that the type of jury instruction given for the trial was inadequate.
"We obviously disagree with the court," she said. "I think there was scant legal precedent for their decision."
The Times story ran in November 2007, four days before the jury began hearing evidence. It reported that Farrell told the hospital staff that Kervick tied her up and forced her to watch pornography at his home during the holidays in late 2001 weeks before her death, claims that Kervick denies.
In court documents, the hospital denied the medical malpractice allegation and said Kervick played a role in Farrell's death because of his own negligence, abuse and hostile behavior toward her. He also denies those accusations.
"Four or five days before the trial started, there was this article in The New York Times," Kervick said. "It painted me as notorious. I think it really had an impact on the trial."
Farrell admitted herself to Silver Hill on Jan. 21, 2002, to get treatment, the Appellate Court decision said. She had previously attempted suicide at Silver Hill by trying to hang herself over the bathroom door of her room, the decision said.
The admitting doctor ordered that Farrell's bathroom door be locked during the new admission because of the previous suicide attempt, but the next day her psychiatrist, Ellyn Shander, ordered that the door be unlocked and that supervision of Farrell be reduced from full-time to every 15 minutes, the ruling said. Farrell hung herself with a pair of pants over the bathroom door on Jan. 28, court documents said.
The Times reported that court documents said Farrell had a traumatic childhood that included being sexually abused for years by her father, MacLennan Farrell. MacLennan Farrell, who also reviewed a few books for the Times, died in 1997.
Kervick, a lawyer, said Monday that he and Farrell became close, but weren't romantically involved, after they met at the hospital.
"We met and became friends," he said. "She was a very sweet, fragile woman who deserved better."