THE parents of a man who died 19 years after a mysterious assault are suing the Cope Foundation in Cork for negligence.
In 1991, a concerned bus driver walked Bryan Cotter to his door with severe head injuries. Soon after, Cotter lost the ability to walk, talk or to ever explain what happened. At the time of the assault, he was attending a school run by the Cope Foundation.
Cotter, who was born with a learning disability, died last February after a bout of pneumonia following 12 years of intensive home care. His father David, a marine engineer who had travelled the world with his son, had spent five years studying nursing in order to look after him at home.
The Cope Foundation, which looks after people with learning disabilities, is being sued by the family who believe there was a sustained effort to deny them a full explanation of the circumstances of various injuries sustained by Bryan while he was in their care. They have also rejected his death certificate which cites pneumonia as the cause, believing instead that Bryan died due to a culmination of improper care, medication and physical abuse. The coroner has refused them an inquest.
While they believe the Cope Foundation is responsible for Bryan's death, there is no suggestion that staff members were the ones who assaulted him. "He came home from school [in 1991]. The driver brought him to the door with his face swollen to twice the size," explained David. "The nurse wrote in his book that should he get sick [we were] to bring him to the hospital immediately. Why someone didn't call a doctor or bring him to the hospital, I don't know."
The Cotters took him to a family GP who said he should have been taken for an x-ray after the incident.
Bryan's behaviour deteriorated and on Christmas Eve his father gave him his first dose of Mellaril – a behavioural drug prescribed months earlier after his school had insisted he see a psychologist. Helpless, they brought him to the Cope Foundation who asked that he be left in their care. "That was the last time we saw Bryan walking," he said.
David then went to work on a marine project in Belfast. On 18 January his wife called him to say Bryan was in hospital and about to die.
He was "black and blue" and over a number of days they discovered he had pneumonia, fluid on the brain and an abscess on his spine "the size of a fist".
"They did bore-hole surgery on his brain and they drained it. There was half a litre of blood so I assumed that one of the kicks or the assault would have caused that," said David.
After his recovery – although at this stage he was brain damaged and could no longer speak – the family was left with no choice but to return him to the Cope Foundation due to the level of care required. At this time David began five years of nursing studies and gave up his job so that he could care for Bryan.
Over the years, David has flown as far as America to seek medical expertise and claims he has been systematically hampered in his efforts to obtain his son's medical files. He eventually secured around 45,000 pages. Gardaí have also been notified.
In a statement, the Cope Foundation said it was unable to comment due to pending legal proceedings, but that it would fully defend the allegations.
The Cotters say that their wrongful death suit is simply a final effort to uncover a chain of events they believe led to the death of their son.
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