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March 17, 2021
By: Andrés J. Gallegos (Chair of Disability Rights Practice), Jennifer M. Sender

Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd. (RD) on March 10, 2021, filed a lawsuit against Family Eldercare, Inc., a Texas guardianship program and two of its employees, in the District Court of Travis County, 126th Judicial District in Texas. The employees were assigned as guardians for Mr. Michael Hickson, a 47-year-old man with multiple disabilities who died at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center (SDMC) in Austin, Texas in June 2020 after being deprived of all life-sustaining treatment including artificial nutrition and hydration for six days.

Admitted to SDMC on June 2, 2020, Mr. Hickson was fighting sepsis, a urinary tract infection, pneumonia, and suspected COVID–19, all conditions for which he was successfully treated at SDMC only three months prior. Almost immediately upon Mr. Hickson’s admission and without waiting to determine if antibiotics would be successful, SDMC physicians recommended he be placed on “Do Not Resuscitate” instructions. Mr. Hickson was a quadriplegic, had an anoxic brain injury, and cortical blindness all stemming from sudden cardiac arrest in 2017. All were stable conditions.

Despite identifying the specific organism that caused the bacterial infection and lab results indicating Mr. Hickson was responsive to administered antibiotics, on June 5, 2020, his physicians, with the obliging consent of Family Eldercare, abruptly withdrew all life-sustaining treatment including artificial nutrition and hydration and designated Mr. Hickson as Do Not Resuscitate. When pressed for an explanation as to why they would not treat him, in a legally recorded conversation, one of his physicians told his wife, Mrs. Melissa Hickson, “as of right now, his quality of life, he doesn’t have much of one.” The physician then distinguished Mr. Hickson from other of his patients who were being treated aggressively for COVID–19, “his quality of life is different than theirs. They were walking, talking.”

The lawsuit asserts multiple counts of gross negligence, wrongful death and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Family Eldercare and its two assigned guardians. Among other matters, the guardians expressly instructed an SDMC social worker to keep information away from Mrs. Hickson, assured Mrs. Hickson that Mr. Hickson was receiving artificial nutrition and hydration, and fatally, never questioned the physicians’ recommendation to withdraw all life-sustaining treatment including artificial nutrition and hydration. Those guardians then never informed Mrs. Hickson of her husband’s demise, and 22 days after their guardianship authority ended, granted SDMC authority to release certain of Mr. Hickson’s protected health information in a social media statement defending its actions and demeaning Mrs. Hickson. The complaint is available here.

RD’s litigation efforts are led by Jennifer M. Sender and Andrés J. Gallegos. RD is co-counseling with Whitburn and Pevsner, PLLC.