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KATTA v. UNITED STATES

September 30, 1991

HELEN M. KATTA, as Special Administrator for the Estate of THADDEUS C. KATTA, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant


James F. Holderman, United States District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: HOLDERMAN

JAMES F. HOLDERMAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

 Plaintiff Helen M. Katta, as special administrator for the estate of her son, Thaddeus ("Ted") C. Katta, brings this suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2671 et seq. ("FTCA"). Plaintiff seeks damages arising from the tragic death of her son.

 Before filing this action, plaintiff submitted her claim to the Veterans' Administration ("VA") Medical Center, North Chicago, Illinois. That agency denied her claim in writing, satisfying the requirements of 28 U.S.C. Section 2675.

 Accordingly, plaintiff filed this action against defendant, the United States of America ("the Government"), on December 23, 1987. Plaintiff bases jurisdiction on 28 U.S.C. Section 1346(b).

 I. FINDINGS OF FACT1

 In February of 1969, at the age of twenty, Ted Katta enlisted in the United States Army. (H. Katta Tr. 7, 15.) At the time he was five feet eight or nine inches tall. He weighed 185 pounds and he had no physical impairments. (H. Katta Tr. 15-16.)

 Ted Katta served in Vietnam for approximately one year. While there, Mr. Katta received gun shot wounds resulting in injuries to his right hip, right arm, and right shoulder. (H. Katta Tr. 17.) When he returned from Vietnam in 1970, Ted Katta weighed about 120 pounds. (H. Katta Tr. 16; T. Katta Tr. 3.) His mother did not even recognize him. (H. Katta Tr. 16.) The Army honorably discharged Ted Katta in 1971. He received a Combat Infantryman's Badge for his service.

 After his discharge, Ted Katta refused to discuss his experiences in Vietnam with anyone. (H. Katta Tr. 20; T. Katta Tr. 4, 8.) He appeared to have a lot of anger and hate "in his eyes." (T. Katta Tr. 4.)

 In May of 1971, Ted Katta married Tanina ("Tina") Piavenko. (H. Katta Tr. 21; T. Katta Tr. 2, 4.) Several months later, Ted and Tina Katta moved into a home of their own in the town of McHenry, Illinois. (H. Katta Tr. 22; T. Katta Tr. 6.) The couple had two children: a daughter, Deneen, born in 1974; and a son, Bryant, born in 1975. (T. Katta Tr. 6.)

 Beginning in 1975 and 1976, Ted Katta started to have nightmares. *fn2" (T. Katta Tr. 6-7.) On more than one occasion Ted, while sleeping, got up from the bed moaning, slung his wife Tina over his shoulder and shouted, "Don't worry, Mike, everything's okay, I got you, I got you." (T. Katta Tr. 7, 15-16.) In 1976 Ted Katta began drinking alcoholic beverages more and more. *fn3" (T. Katta Tr. 6, 8.)

 By 1980 Ted Katta's marriage was deteriorating. He was drinking even more, staying up at night more, and not sleeping. (T. Katta Tr. 19.) He began to physically and verbally abuse Tina. (T. Katta Tr. 19, 23.)

 During 1981 and 1982 Ted Katta was not working much. (T. Katta Tr. 23.) He would sleep on the couch during the day and not sleep much at night. (T. Katta Tr. 23-24.) At night Ted would sit in the family room of his home with the lights off or walk around the house. (T. Katta Tr. 24.) He kept two guns, a rifle, and a hunting knife with seven inch blade in the bedroom "for protection." (T. Katta Tr. 24-25.) His physical abuse of his wife intensified. (T. Katta Tr. 25, 27-28.)

 On three occasions, Ted Katta sat on the couch in his home, dressed in battle fatigues, having blacked-out his face with grease paint. (T. Katta Tr. 25-26.) He would often laugh in a "shrieking" manner. (T. Katta Tr. 26.)

 It was this strange behavior which brought Ted Katta into contact with the VA in 1982. The VA operates the Veteran's Administration Medical Center, North Chicago, Illinois ("North Chicago VA"). On February 3, 1982, James Moore, a social worker at the North Chicago VA, examined Ted Katta. Mr. Moore diagnosed Ted as suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ("PTSD") stemming from his combat experiences in Vietnam. (Moore Tr. 7-8, 23-24, 29.) Dr. M.K. Mitchell, a staff psychiatrist, signed Mr. Moore's diagnosis.

 In February of 1982 Ted Katta was examined at the North Chicago VA and placed on Outpatient Ambulatory Care. Mr. Katta was discharged from Outpatient Ambulatory Care on August 5, 1982, after repeatedly failing to keep scheduled appointments at the VA Mental Health Clinic.

 On December 10, 1982, Ted Katta attempted to choke his wife, Tina, and threatened to kill her. Tina left her husband, taking the children, after that incident. (T. Katta Tr. 31.)

 In July of 1983, Mr. Katta moved out of his marital home in McHenry, Illinois, and Tina and the children moved back into the home. (T. Katta Tr. 34-35.) Mr. Katta moved in with his elderly parents -- Helen Katta and her husband -- who lived in Chicago, Illinois. He did not speak to Tina. She did not speak to him. (T. Katta Tr. 35.)

 In December of 1983 Ted and Tina Katta were divorced. (T. Katta Tr. 2, 29, 33.) Tina Katta testified that she was afraid of Ted and of what he might do to her or to their children. (T. Katta Tr. 33, 40, 43, 57.)

 After Ted Katta moved in with his parents, Helen Katta noticed that her son had a "very strange laugh." He would not talk with her. He had repeated nightmares where he would scream during the night. (H. Katta Tr. 24.)

 Indeed, several times each week, Ted Katta would awaken during the night, jump up, and run down his parents' hallway swinging a black scarf he had brought back with him from Vietnam. (H. Katta Tr. 25-26.) He would then sleep on his parents' living room floor. (H. Katta Tr. 27.) Ted Katta often would become violent, throwing items and laughing "like a madman". (H. Katta Tr. 27-28.)

 Near Easter of 1984 Ted Katta threatened to choke his mother. (H. Katta Tr. 29.) At one point he grabbed her around the neck. (H. Katta Tr. 29.) He also began verbally abusing his mother. (H. Katta Tr. 30.) In early 1984 Ted Katta attempted to break into his ex-wife's home in McHenry. (T. Katta Tr. 36.)

 On October 22, 1984, Helen Katta signed a Petition for Involuntary Admission of Ted Katta because he had tried to choke his father and had broken windows in his parents' home on October 18, 1984. Chicago Police brought Ted Katta to the Chicago Read Mental Health Center ("Chicago Read") on October 23, 1984 under a Writ of Detention. Mr. Katta was confined for examination and a hearing.

 On October 30, 1984 after a hearing, the Circuit Court of Cook County entered an order involuntarily committing Ted Katta as "in need of mental treatment." Ted Katta was hospitalized at Chicago Read from October 23, 1984 until November 30, 1984.

 Ted Katta's treating psychiatrist at Chicago Read was Dr. A. Papas, M.D. Dr. Papas diagnosed Mr. Katta as suffering from a disorder known as Paranoia, which Dr. Papas believed to be in partial remission by November 30, 1984. Ted Katta was transferred to the North Chicago VA on November 30, 1984. Dr. Papas signed Ted Katta's Chicago Read discharge summary, which was sent to the North Chicago VA with Ted Katta.

 Following Ted Katta's arrival at the North Chicago VA on November 30, 1984, Dr. Falies Munas, a staff psychiatrist at the VA Mental Health Clinic, examined and evaluated him. While at Chicago Read Ted Katta had been on a medication known as Mellaril for his paranoid disorder. Dr. Munas prescribed Mellaril at a lower dosage. Dr. Munas then placed Ted Katta on outpatient ambulatory care status.

 Dr. Munas' psychiatric evaluation reflects that Ted Katta was in partial remission without any suicidal thoughts, and that there was no history suggestive of major depression or mania. As part of his outpatient treatment, Ted Katta attended appointments with Dr. Munas in North Chicago on December 7 and December 20, 1984, and January 3, 1985.

 After he was placed on outpatient status on November 30, 1984, Ted Katta returned to his parents' home in Chicago. His condition had improved markedly. (H. Katta Tr. 48; T. Katta Tr. 39, 48.) He spoke several times with his ex-wife, Tina, saw her and his children during the Christmas holidays, and was pleasant to his family. (T. Katta Tr. 38, 48.) He appeared much better -- he was dressing better, was taking pride in his appearance, and had a more positive attitude. (T. Katta Tr. 48-50.)

 On December 7, 1984 Dr. Munas found Ted Katta to be in nearly full remission. On December 20, 1984 and January 3, 1985, Dr. Munas found Ted Katta to be in full remission. Accordingly, on January 3 Dr. Munas changed the schedule of Ted Katta's visits to once per month. Ted Katta's next appointment with Dr. Munas was scheduled for January 31, 1985.

 According to Tina Katta, after December of 1984 Ted Katta indicated that he was not going back to the VA. He had stopped taking his medication. (T. Katta Tr. 50-51.) It was after Ted Katta stopped taking his medication and stopped going back to the VA that his condition began to worsen. (T. Katta Tr. 51.) Tina Katta admitted that her ex-husband had a pattern of beginning treatment and other activities, and then repeatedly dropping out. *fn4" (T. Katta Tr. 51-54.)

 On January 9, 1985 Dr. Sumner Garte, a vocational psychologist, interviewed Ted Katta. Dr. Garte referred Mr. Katta to see Jerry Pence, an employee of the Illinois Disabled Veteran's OutPatient Placement on January 10 and 23, 1984. A progress note relating to Ted Katta, dated January 10, 1985, signed by Mr. Pence, was part of Dr. Garte's file.

 On January 16, 1985 Ted Katta went to the Central Testing Unit at the North Chicago VA for psychological and vocational testing.

 On January 22, 1985, Claire Cafaro, a social worker, interviewed Ted Katta. Ms. Cafaro found that Ted Katta presented himself somewhat guardedly and did not acknowledge the need for treatment other than job counseling. Ted Katta also expressed to Ms. Cafaro his wish not to return for further treatment. In fact, he asked whether he had to keep coming to the VA. Also on January 22, 1985, Dr. Aldo Santorum, a psychologist, conducted a psychological evaluation of Ted Katta.

 In January of 1985 Helen Katta was aware that her son's behavior was beginning to deteriorate. (H. Katta Tr. 48.) His nightmares, screaming, and running up and down the hallway had started again. (H. Katta Tr. 49.) He began breaking things again. (H. Katta Tr. 50.) He appeared to have stopped taking his medication. (H. Katta Tr. 66.) Ted's ex-wife, Tina, also noted that Ted was back to his "same horrible self." (T. Katta Tr. 45.)

 Neither Helen nor Tina Katta informed anyone at the VA of Ted's worsening behavior. (T. Katta Tr. 51.) Indeed, after his interview and evaluation at the North Chicago VA on January 22, 1985, neither Ted Katta nor his parents ever sought the help of the medical staff of the VA or Chicago Read.

 Ted Katta failed to appear for his appointment with Dr. Munas on January 31, 1985. On February 15, 1985, Dorothy Haymes, a case management technician in counselling psychology, called Ted Katta to inquire whether he planned to return for further counseling. Ms. Haymes' note of that same day reflects that Ted Katta did not ...


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