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Doctor’s Widow Awarded $1.3 Million Over His Suicide at Drug Center

October 11, 1987

ATLANTA (AP) _ The widow of a doctor who committed suicide while being treated for drug addiction at a rehabilitation center has been awarded $1.3 million in damages by a jury.

The wrongful death action against Smyrna’s Ridgeview Institute was the first case to go to trial among four lawsuits involving the suicides of health-care professionals who were treated at Ridgeview. One suit was settled out of court; the other two are pending.

The Fulton County Superior Court jury deliberated just over four hours before returning its decision Saturday against Ridgeview and Dr. James W. Blevins, a staff psychiatrist at the facility, which specializes in treating drug and alcohol addictions.

Dr. Walter Brandvain, 31, a resident in internal medicine at Lincoln Hospital in New York City, hanged himself with a shirt Jan. 6, 1985, five days after he checked in for treatment of addictions to methadone, cocaine and other drugs.

At issue was whether the staff reacted appropriately to what Ridgeview psychiatrists called a suicide ″gesture″ by Brandvain the day before.

Staff members testified that Brandvain closed a bathroom door on the sleeve of his sweater, which was draped around his neck.

In her testimony, Brandvain’s widow, Deborah, said she had warned Ridgeview that her husband tried to jump out of a window during treatment at a New York hospital.

But Ridgeview officials said they were unaware of previous suicide attempts. They said the sweater incident was an attempt by Brandvain to get attention and drugs.

The institute recently settled a suit by the widow of a Fort Wayne, Ind., part-time pharmacist and policeman. The amount of that settlement was not revealed.

Pending are cases brought by survivors of a 32-year-old nurse anesthetist from Cairo, Ga., and a 41-year-old Missouri osteopath. The nurse anesthetist, Paul Hester, died on April 21, 1983; the Missouri osteopath, Samuel C. Ross Jr., died Jan. 8, 1986.