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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 23, 2009

Negligence claimed in hospital hanging

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer

The family of a man who was found hanging in his Hawai'i State Hospital room two years ago has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the hospital, saying the staff was negligent and could have prevented his death.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday by Anne, Frederick, Jacqueline, Jaimie, Joseph, Kevin, Patrick, Rebecca and Timothy Haberly and Deborah Keith, relatives of Keith Bieniek, who died two weeks after he was found hanging by the neck in his hospital room on Feb. 4, 2007. Named as defendants were the hospital and the state of Hawai'i.

Dr. Mark Fridovich, hospital administrator, said he had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment.

Bieniek, 37, was arrested in August 2006 for yelling at two people and booked on a harassment charge. Prosecutors did not pursue the case, but a judge ordered a mental health evaluation of Bieniek, and he was found to suffer from a mental illness, depression and posed a danger to himself, the lawsuit said.

On Dec. 28, 2006, Bieniek was admitted to the State Hospital in Kane'ohe and another evaluation determined that he was at risk for suicide, the lawsuit said. But Bieniek's family says the hospital did not put him on a suicide watch, nor did he receive any supervision or special housing to address the risk.

On Feb. 4, hospital staff found Bieniek unresponsive with a bed sheet tied around his neck in his bathroom. He was taken to Castle Medical Center, where he died on Feb. 24.

In addition to the negligence charge, the State Hospital is accused of failing to inform family members that Bieniek was committed to the hospital, the lawsuit said.

"(The hospital) knew or should have known that Keith lacked the mental competency to make legal or medical decisions for himself . . . and was required and legally obligated to notify at least one member of Keith's family, so that Keith's family members may have had the opportunity to transfer Keith to a facility where Keith could have received the care and supervision that HSH had negligently failed to provide," the family said in the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs are seeking an undetermined amount in damages and attorneys fees.

Reach Curtis Lum at culum@honoluluadvertiser.com.