Federal Court Dismisses Langbehn’s Lawsuit over Hospital Visitation Rights

On Tuesday, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida dismissed Lambda Legal’s lawsuit on behalf of Janice Langbehn, Lisa Pond’s partner of 17 years who was kept from her bedside during her final hours of life in the Jackson Memorial Hospital in 2007. 

rsz_2longerlangbehnAgreeing with the Public Health Trust of Miami Dade County’s motion to dismiss, the court ruled that “the hospital has neither an obligation to allow their patients’ visitors nor any obligation whatsoever to provide their patients’ families, healthcare surrogates, or visitors with access to patients in their trauma unit.”

Lisa Pond suffered a fatal brain aneurysm at age 39 just before she, Janice, and their three children were to depart on a Caribbean cruise for gay families on February 18, 2007.  She was rushed off the ship to Jackson Memorial Hospital, where officials refused to let Langbehn or their children see Pond for eight hours until a priest came to deliver her last rites, by which time Pond had already slipped into a coma.

One of the most shocking components of Langbehn’s experience, as laudably reported by the New York Times last May, was her reception by Jackson Memorial social worker Garnett Frederick, who informed her that she was in an “antigay city and state,” and that despite producing the necessary legal papers, they would not recognize her power of attorney authority.  Frederick denies making the comment.  The court dismissed the case without deciding whether Langbehn had been discriminated against.

Jackson continues to deny that LGBT patients and families are treated differently at their facility.  The Miami Herald quoted Jackson Memorial spokeswoman Jennifer Piedra saying in their news release, “We have always believed and known that the staff at Jackson treats everyone equally, and that their main concern is the well-being of the patients in their care."

In Lambda Legal’s press release the day of the decision, lead counsel Staff Attorney Beth Littrell [said], “The court’s decision paints a tragically stark picture of how vulnerable same-sex couples and their families really are during times of crisis.”

Langbehn’s latest posts to her family blog reveal a deep sense of despair in the wake of the court’s decision:

“I wanted to win so that you – gay or straight – could be with your loved one as well as bring in your children to hold your loved one’s hand while they could sense you – so that you could begin the grieving process – but all was for not.  I am sorry.”

GLAAD has worked with the Langbehn family from the beginning of their ordeal, helping with media strategy and media trainings. They are in our hearts at the difficult time and we will continue spotlighting their story and the stories of countless others who are denied basic protections like hospital visitation.

The court has given Lambda and the Langbehn-Pond family until October 16th to review the ruling and consider all legal options.  We will continue to keep you updated about the progress of her fight to ensure equal treatment of all families.

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