A Mexican woman who was mistakenly confined for 12 years to a Kansas mental hospital can continue with her lawsuit against the state, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.
Rita Patino Quintero was placed in Larned State Hospital in 1983. She didn't leave there until 1995, after officials discovered her behavior and language were not symptoms of mental illness, but characteristics of her culture the little-known Tarahumara Indian tribe.
She returned to Mexico after her release, secured with the help of Kansas Advocacy & Protective Services Inc.
In 1996, the organization filed a $10 million lawsuit on her behalf against the social workers, psychologists, doctors and administrators of Larned and the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.
A U.S. District Court judge dismissed the claims against the social workers and psychologists but let the allegations stand against the doctors and administrators.
The Larned doctors and administrators appealed.
In the Wednesday ruling, a panel of the Denver-based U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed claims that the hospital provided inadequate medical training to its doctors.
But the court said Quintero's lawsuit can proceed on claims the state wrongfully confined her, provided inadequate medical care and failed to obtain her informed consent for medications.
The officials said they were entitled to qualified immunity from the lawsuit, but the court disagreed.
U.S. Circuit Judge Carlos F. Lucero said Quintero has the right to pursue her claims that officials "failed to implement policies, procedures and staff training to ensure that (her) rights were protected."
The ruling sends Quintero's case back to the U.S. District Court in Kansas for further litigation.
According to her hospital file, Quintero was found digging through trash cans and searching for food when she was detained in 1983 by police in Johnson City.
She was soon sent to Larned, where officials couldn't understand her language an evolved form of ancient Aztec. With her limited Spanish, she seemed to tell doctors she was from the sky, or even heaven.
That reference could have been a description of the Chihuahua mountains where she lived in Mexico. To Kansas officials, it meant she needed help.
Quintero's case was the subject of a play performed last summer in Arizona. Kansas Advocacy officials say Quintero doesn't like to talk about the case.