Family sues over cold weather death of man who left WI Veterans Hospital

Department of Veterans Affairs (Ed Schipul/Flickr)

The family of a Georgia veteran who died in Madison nearly three years ago when he wandered away from the Veterans Hospital in bitterly cold temperatures filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the federal government, alleging the hospital’s negligence led to the man’s death.

The adult children of Vance Perry Sr. sued the federal government in the Madison-based U.S. District Court of Western Wisconsin after the 57-year-old mentally ill man walked away from the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital on the Near West Side and was eventually found dead in a Downtown parking garage.

According to the lawsuit, Perry, of Covington, Georgia, was admitted to the Veterans Hospital on Dec. 28, 2017, for ongoing mental health problems, which caused him to experience confusion, disorientation, severe memory problems and other cognitive difficulties.

His mental health problems, which the Veterans Hospital was aware of, put Perry at risk of wandering or going missing, the lawsuit says. The hospital had an assessment for Perry that required staff ensure he got into a taxi or another means of transportation to take him home, according to the lawsuit.

But when Perry, who served in the Army between 1978 and 1984, was discharged on Dec. 30, 2017, hospital staff “failed to make sure that Mr. Perry actually got in the cab which had been called to take him home” and were unaware for hours after his discharge that he didn’t take the taxi, the lawsuit alleges.

He was found dead the next morning in a Downtown parking garage about 2 1/2 miles from the hospital. At the time, a Madison police spokesman said Perry was “not dressed for the frigid conditions,” wearing a light jacket and ball cap with no gloves. The temperature on the night Perry wandered off was 6 degrees below zero, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit, filed by Perry’s five adult children, alleges hospital staff failed to follow policies and also failed to contact police or make efforts to locate Perry. It seeks an unspecified amount in damages.

The hospital did not immediately return a message late Tuesday.

Perry’s family told an Atlanta news station in early 2018 that he had paranoid schizophrenia and had moved from Georgia to Madison a month before his death, according to a report from 11Alive.

Perry’s death was the third in the Madison area over three days involving hypothermia during a cold snap at the end of 2017. And it’s not the first to result in a lawsuit.

An 84-year-old resident of a Sun Prairie assisted living center was found dead outside the facility two days before Perry died. The family of Alice McGaw, who had dementia, sued Faith Gardens in 2018, and the facility closed in early 2019.


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