RULING EXPECTED NEXT WEEK IN CASE OF TROOPER’S SUICIDE — (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

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Richmond Times-Dispatch

September 16, 1995

Author: Deborah Kelly,  Times-Dispatch Staff Writer

A Henrico County judge will decide next week whether to impose a $1.1 million verdict returned in a medical malpractice case involving the suicide of a state trooper.   A Circuit Court jury decided that Trooper Theodore J. Cross Jr.’s psychiatrist had failed to properly assess Cross’ risk of committing suicide.

Dr. William M. Lordi, the psychiatrist, was treating Cross when the trooper committed suicide on Aug. 31, 1992.  Cross, 42, was in his patrol car about a mile from his Waverly home when he shot himself in the head. The case was heard in Henrico County because Lordi’s medical office is in Henrico.

In the 14 months before the suicide, Lordi had been treating Cross for depression, anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive behavior, said Richmond lawyer Russell V. Palmore Jr. of Mays & Valentine, which is representing the Cross estate.  Palmore argued that Lordi failed to meet the accepted standard of care by not properly exploring the trooper’s symptoms to find the cause of his depression.

Lordi’s attorney, Brewster S. Rawls, said his client will probably appeal.  “Right now we’re evaluating all our options,” Rawls said. “We will probably very aggressively move to get a new trial” when the matter goes back before Judge L.A. Harris Jr. on Friday.   After hearing three days of testimony, a jury of four men and three women deliberated about 3 1/2 hours before deciding Aug. 31 that Cross’ daughter and widow were entitled to compensatory damages. The jury awarded $225,000 to Heidi Renee Cross, now 16, and $900,000 to Karen B. Cross, the executor of her husband’s estate.

Rawls said his appeal would likely be based on “several errors,” including what he said was insufficient expert testimony in the case. He declined to elaborate.   Lordi could not be reached for comment.  Palmore said Lordi’s notes from his sessions with Cross gave no indication that he “engaged in any type exploration of what was causing the depression and what other underlying problems might be there.”

The complaint also alleged that in April 1991, more than two months before Lordi saw Cross in person for the first time, he prescribed Prozac, an anti-depressant, and Xenax, an anti anxiety medication, for the trooper.  Lordi last saw Cross on Aug. 14, 1992 — 17 days before the trooper’s death.   The complaint further alleged that Lordi failed to:

  •  secure an adequate medical history of Cross and his “family of origin”;
  •  identify and properly record his symptoms;
  •  properly maintain his medical chart;
  •  appropriately prescribe and administer medication;
  •  seek other professional opinions with regard to Cross’ symptoms;
  •  recognize and/or appreciate the significance of the symptoms;
  •  take into account Cross’ profession; and
  •  take appropriate actions to prevent the suicide.

The complaint asked for damages for Cross’ survivors for “sorrow, mental anguish and . . . loss of the society, companionship, comfort, guidance” and advice of Cross, and for compensation for the loss of his income.  Lordi responded that he did not breach any duty of care owed to Cross, and that no act or omission on his part caused or contributed to Cross’ suicide.   Lordi’s defense further claimed that because Cross “committed the illegal act of suicide,” his heirs are barred from recovering in a wrongful death action.  Virginia law provides that suicide is illegal if a person is of “sound mind” at the time of death and rationally and methodically plans his suicide.

Record Number:  9509160319