A state appeals court judge ruled Wednesday that a 10-year-old wrongful death suit against Yale and a psychiatrist will not go to trial.
The case concerns the 1989 killing of Angelina Bryant by Aaron Haruna Gillum, a former Yale graduate student who committed suicide just after murdering Bryant. In 1991, the parents of Gillum and Bryant sued Yale and Dr. James Scott, the psychiatrist who treated Gillum, for failure to recognize the severity of Gillum’s mental illness.
The suit has been unresolved for 10 years because Terence Hawkins, the New Haven lawyer that the plaintiffs hired, continually neglected to appear in court and respond to Yale’s lawyers. The original case was dismissed and re-opened three times. The victims’ parents tried and failed to re-open the case two more times, the last time in December 1997. In January 1998, the parents sued Yale and Scott again and the defendants quickly filed a motion to dismiss the second suit.
In December 1998, New Haven Superior Court Judge Jon C. Blue ruled in summary judgment in favor of Yale since Hawkins had been so lackadaisical in his attention to the case. Blue called the history of dismissals and re-openings “not a pretty picture” and “the poster child for dilatory behavior dismissals.”
The victims’ parents appealed Blue’s ruling and Wednesday the state Appellate Court upheld Blue’s 1998 decision, citing Hawkins for “continually running deadlines to their limits.”
“The plaintiff’s counsel failed to take the necessary steps one must take in pursuing a case, such as attending conferences,” Yale General Counsel Dorothy Robinson said. “The case went off track on procedural matters.”
Hawkins has plans to appeal the decision of the appellate court to the state Supreme Court, the Associated Press reported.
In October 1988, Gillum threatened to kill himself and Bryant, his ex-girlfriend who was a graduate student at the University of Delaware.
The original lawsuit charged that Yale referred Haruna to Scott, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry, for outpatient psychotherapy in October 1998. On Jan. 22, 1989, Haruna went to Yale-New Haven Hospital and said he had discontinued taking his psychiatric medicine. The suit charged that the Yale Health Plan told the ER staff to have Haruna report to University Health Services. The plaintiffs said Haruna never appeared at UHS and Scott was never notified of the incident. Early the next month, Haruna tracked Bryant down in a Delaware shopping mall and shot and killed her with a hunting rifle, which he later turned on himself.
The law firm of Wiggin and Dana represented Yale in this case. Robinson said Yale typically uses lawyers from outside firms for matters of litigation.
The original suit filed in 1991 alleged that Yale and Scott failed to “assess and evaluate Haruna’s potential for suicidal and/or homicidal behavior.”
Scott and Hawkins could not be reached for comment.