UC sued over former student’s brain damage from drug overdose at co-op

John Gibson

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The mother of a former UC Berkeley student whose son sustained brain damage as the result of a drug overdose sued the Berkeley Student Cooperative and the UC Board of Regents Tuesday.

Madelyn Bennett claims that the cooperative failed to exercise reasonable and diligent care and supervision at Cloyne Court, allegedly resulting in ongoing illegal activities including the sale of illegal drugs. Plaintiff attorney Charles Kelly, II said the regents failed to provide adequate supervision or education for former student John Gibson, now 23, and other cooperative residents about responsible drug use and that certain policies discouraged students from contacting emergency responders or 911.

According to Bennett’s lawsuit, filed in the Alameda County Superior Court, Gibson sustained an anoxic brain injury after he and his roommate at the time ingested illegal drugs around St. Patrick’s Day in 2010. The lawsuit states that roommates attempted to perform CPR after finding Gibson the next morning with bluish lips, seemingly not breathing. He remained in the house for an additional two hours before emergency responders were called, according to the lawsuit.

Kelly said medical bills for Gibson are over $500,000 per year and that although a formal demand has not been made, any settlement would include future medical treatment, which now includes round-the-clock nurses. This future medical treatment could cost millions of dollars, he added.

UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof said the campus is saddened about the injuries Gibson sustained and that although the campus cannot be held legally liable for the consequences of illegal drug use, it will continue to “work hard with the co-op to educate members about drug abuse.”

Although the lawsuit has been filed, Kelly said it would be at least two weeks before it is served. He added that he has not spoken with anyone from the university or the cooperative about the case.

“Illegal activity of any kind is prohibited,” said Jan Stokley, executive director for the cooperative. “The distribution of drugs on co-op property is strictly banned.”

The fall 2010 “Pirate Code” for the house — a packet which outlines house rules for its residents — does not include a policy on drug use, though it does address issues such as noise violations and smoking.

According to the cooperative’s Board of Directors website, the board adopted a new three-part strategy to address substance abuse in December 2010.

“These ideas came out of conversations held between Cloyne and BSC leadership and UC administrators in the wake of the two drug incidents at Cloyne in Spring/Summer 2010,” the website states.

Stokely said the cooperative is a student-run housing operation with student on-site managers trained to supervise the operations at Cloyne.

However, Kelly said a that third party on-site manager might be better suited than a student manager to oversee the cooperative’s activity, and that the case seeks to prove that the university and the cooperative administrators knew or should have known about illegal activities at Cloyne.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the lawsuit was filed Thursday. In fact, it was filed Tuesday.