State Settles Ant-Bite Lawsuit
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
September 25, 2003
MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA--The state of Alabama and a pest control company agreed to pay more than $1 million to settle a suit filed by the mother of a woman who had been attacked by fire ants while in an institution bed.
On August 20, 2000, Sheri Renee Herring was rushed to the hospital after, as one doctor described it, being bitten by fire ants "so many times that the bites were too numerous to count".
At the time of the attack, the 36-year-old Herring -- who has Rett syndrome and is not able to move her limbs, call for help, or even scream -- was a resident at Albert P. Brewer Developmental Center, an institution that housed 187 people with developmental disabilities. Herring had been discovered in her bed covered from head to toe with the poisonous insects at about 5:30 a.m. Officials said she was okay when she was checked at 10:00 the previous evening, but that the worker who looked in on her at 3:00 the next morning only opened her door to glance into the room.
Among those initially defending the institution was Herring's mother and guardian, Betty Lyons, who also happened to be the president of the Friends of Brewer, a pro-institution group made up of residents' parents.
But when a Department of Health inspection team found at least seven reports of other ant infestations and ant bite attacks during the three months before Herring's attack, Lyons changed her position.
"I hold them responsible," Lyons said in early October 2000. "They knew about this, and they should have done something."
Kenny Mendelsohn, the lawyer who filed the suit for Lyons, said this week, "She literally was eaten up by ants for hours and hours. If you saw the pictures, they would infuriate you."
In her lawsuit, Lyons claimed Brewer supervisors had been warned about the ant problem, that staff had not done bed checks during the night as required and that staff falsified bed check records. Lyons originally sought $2.5 million in damages.
In the settlement approved September 18, the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation agreed to pay $750,000, while the pest control company that serviced the facility agreed to pay $300,000. After attorneys and court fees are paid, $595,777 will remain in a trust fund for Herring's on-going care.
Brewer Developmental Center is one of three Alabama institutions housing people with developmental disabilities slated to be closed by this coming March.
"Trouble in Alabama's Institutions: Albert P. Brewer Developmental Center" (Inclusion Daily Express)