Education

University of Iowa, state agree to pay $2.5 million after suicidal parking ramp jump

Settlement ends two-year-old lawsuit

The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa including the Old Capitol Building (center), Macbride Hall (top left), Jessup Hall (bottom left), Schaeffer Hall (top right), and MacLean Hall (bottom right) in an aerial photograph. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette/file photo)
The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa including the Old Capitol Building (center), Macbride Hall (top left), Jessup Hall (bottom left), Schaeffer Hall (top right), and MacLean Hall (bottom right) in an aerial photograph. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette/file photo)

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa and the state Attorney General’s Office have agreed to pay an Illinois family $2.5 million after a 40-year-old patient at the UI Hospitals and Clinics in 2014 jumped off from a parking ramp and later died from her injuries.

UI Physicians, a medical and surgical group practice at the UI Carver College of Medicine, will cover $1.25 million. The other half will come from the state’s general fund, according to a letter from Assistant Attorney General Anne Updegraff.

Liability payments for claims involving UI Physicians come from clinical revenue. according to hospital officials.

The agreement settles a lawsuit that Kathleen Haptonstall and her husband, William Haptonstall, filed against the state in October 2016 — more than two years after Kathleem Haptonstall jumped off the fifth floor of a parking ramp and fell about 50 feet.

She had been admitted to the UI residential eating disorder program in August that year with a health history that included diagnosed depression, delusional disorder, failure to thrive, mood disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and a somatic disorder, according to the lawsuit. She had attempted twice before to kill herself.

The next month, her attending staff psychiatrist told her she would be discharged for her unwillingness to follow his treatment recommendations, thus canceling that day’s therapy session, according to the lawsuit.

Because that cancellation was not properly communicated, a staffer took Haptonstall — who was visibly upset and angry — out of her locked psychiatric unit to the occupational therapy kitchen. While escorting Haptonstall and three other patients back to the locked unit, procedures were not followed and Haptonstall slipped away, the lawsuit said.

She made her way to the parking ramp and jumped, leaving her with significant injuries that required a prolonged hospital stay and amputation of one leg. A Go Fund Me website reported she also sustained a fractured neck, punctured lungs, broken ribs and a brain bleed.

She and her husband accused UIHC of negligence for allowing her to leave a locked unit when she was at high risk of suicide and for failing to supervise her.

After filing the lawsuit, Haptonstall died July 22, 2017, “from complications of the fall,” according to the state.

The payout comes about the same a Johnson County District Court judge ruled for a contractor that sued UIHC for failing to pay it for work on the new UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital and also for some work on Hancher Auditorium.

Although the university has paid a portion of the $21.5 million award to Modern Piping, it still owes more than $17 million. The UI has asked a judge to stay the award pending an appeal.

And the UI this fall will continue its fight with another other contractor over Children’s Hospital work — involving bid packages the contractor argues are worth $64.1 million.

News of the Haptonstall settlement comes three years after UI officials in 2015 told The Gazette the university might install barriers around parking ramps in response to four attempted suicides — with three, at the time, resulting in deaths. Officials confirmed Tuesday the university began installing safety barriers on hospital ramp four — the one by the Pomerantz Family Pavilion — and the Newton Road ramp in August 2017. The more-than-8-foot-tall barriers were installed wherever elevation exceeded 40 feet. The project cost $1.3 million, according to UIHC spokeswoman Molly Rossiter.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

GET HELP

Those contemplating death by suicide, or those who fear a loved one may be having suicidal thoughts, can get help at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — 800-273-8255 — or at SuicidePreventionlifeline.org

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