Family Files Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against State Mental Health Institute

Posted on behalf of Jeff Pitman on March 5, 2009 in Cases Filed
Updated on February 24, 2022

An article by Kevin Murphy for the Northwestern (03/09)

MADISON A 15-year-old-girl choked to death in 2006 on food she wasn’t supposed to be given while a patient at the Winnebago Mental Health Institution, according to a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the girls parents.

The complaint filed against the Department of Health and Family services and several WMHI staff alleged Myriah Peronto was treated at Winnebago from Sept. 9, 2003 until her death on Jan. 11, 2006 for several psychiatric conditions and developmental disabilities including a swallowing disorder. Peronto had limited verbal abilities and needed supervision of her daily activities including feeding.

After several choking incidents, staff was required to serve Peronto’s food in half-inch pieces and to supervise her when she ate because of Peronto’s food shoveling.

At dinner on Jan. 11, 2006 Peronto choked on a Philly cheesesteak she was served at dinner. The entree didn’t comply with the feeding orders of the girls physician, dietician and speech pathologist. Although a resident care technician was seated near her, Peronto choked on her dinner and gasped for air as staff removed some food from Myriah’s throat.

Several staff members tried to resuscitate Peronto but their efforts were hindered in part by the lack of emergency medical equipment. The Oshkosh Fire Department was summoned and removed more food from her throat using a forceps. She was transported to Theda Clark Regional Medical Center where she was pronounced dead. A medical examiner found a roll in Peronto’s throat. Asphyxia was determined to have caused her death as a consequence of choking on a French roll.

Jeffrey Pitman, a Milwaukee personal injury attorney representing Peronto’s parents, Shannon Kastrati, of Hortonville, and David Haupt, of Green Bay, said the the girls death was due to WMHI’s negligence in following feeding orders established for her.

Myriah’s death was completely avoidable and was caused by choices that disregarded Myriah’s health, safety and constitutional rights. Staff were completely aware of the risk of choking yet chose to ignore the risk, said Pitman.

The suit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

In its response to the suit, WMHI, through the attorney generals office, denied all allegations of negligence or misconduct and claims employees acted in good faith in accordance with established laws and administrative rules. The response also notes that damages are capped at $250,000.

The suit was originally filed in Dane County Circuit Court in December. The state then had it moved to federal court in Madison and last week sought to have it transferred to federal court in Milwaukee.

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