School district cited in suit over suicide — (The News Tribune)

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The News Tribune

By Debby Abe   debby.abe@thenewstribune.com

Published: January 6th, 2008 01:00 AM

The mother of a 16-year-old honor roll student who killed herself has sued the Bethel School District, alleging classmates bullied her daughter and that school staff members should have prevented it.

The mother, Sherry McAvan, also claims the district negligently referred the teen to a Pacific Lutheran University clinic, which the lawsuit contends was unqualified to treat the girl for anxiety and other conditions.

The Bethel School District denies the allegations, said attorney Bill Coats, who represents the district.

“We recognize this is a terrible tragedy, and we’re not trying to make light of it,” Coats said. “We’re looking into investigating it as thoroughly as we can.”

The lawsuit, brought in late November, follows the mother’s filing of a separate lawsuit in 2006 against Pacific Lutheran University’s Wellness Center and Wellness Clinic, and Forest Pharmaceuticals and Forest Laboratories Inc., which manufacturers the antidepressant Lexapro.

On Friday, the parties agreed in Pierce County Superior Court to consolidate the two complaints into one case.

The lawsuits seek unspecified monetary damages. However, McAvan’s August 2007 legal claim – required before a lawsuit can be filed against a school district – sought $20 million from Bethel.

April Marie Baysinger was a junior at Bethel High School when she died Nov. 1, 2004, according to the lawsuits. She held a 3.97 grade-point average, the legal actions say. She lived her entire life in Graham and Spanaway, and worked at a McDonald’s on Mountain Highway, according to her obituary in The News Tribune.

“This was a wonderful young girl,” said Ann Deutscher, McAvan’s lawyer. “I have talked to so many people who knew her. She won multiple service awards, she was very well-liked by teachers, she excelled in math and science.”

On Oct. 20, 2004, McAvan took April to the PLU Wellness Center for treatment of anxiety, depression, insomnia and fatigue. That day a Wellness Center nurse practitioner learned of the girl’s two recent suicide attempts described as “one attempted choking and one with a knife to her chest.”

The nurse practitioner placed the girl on Lexapro. At her next appointment at the clinic on Oct. 28, the clinic doubled the girl’s dose of the antidepressant after learning the teen wasn’t eating and continued to suffer from anxiety and depression.

The girl shot herself four days later at her home in Spanaway.

The legal actions claim that Bethel High students physically and emotionally harassed April in fall 2004 and that school staff either knew or should have known about the alleged harassment, but did not take steps to stop it.

Deutscher said she’s trying to find out more specifics about the alleged harassment, which was revealed by a co-defendant in the case and cited in a police report.

Forest Pharmaceuticals is accused of failing to warn the nurse practitioner that Lexapro could enhance the risk of suicide in teenage patients, and that April’s worsening symptoms were caused at least in part by the drug. The nurse practitioner is accused of failing to take appropriate action to protect the teen.

Citing patient confidentiality laws, PLU spokesman Greg Brewis declined to comment on the allegations against PLU, but expressed sympathy on behalf of the university and the Wellness Center for families and friends affected by suicide.

“We have absolute confidence in the work of the Wellness Center staff and stand fully behind the care that they provide for a wide range of physical and mental ailments, including depression, stress and anxiety,” he said in a written statement.

John Ipsaro, a lawyer in Cincinnati representing Forest Laboratories, also declined to comment on the allegations. However, he referred The News Tribune to the corporation’s filing in a Missouri lawsuit that argues there’s no evidence the antidepressant causes people to kill themselves. It contends most of the patients in that lawsuit were diagnosed with depression, had a long history of mental health problems or talked about suicide before they began taking an antidepressant