Battling mother finally wins €26,000 damages from Portuguese State

After 11 years of litigation, the European Court of Human Rights has found in favour of a Portuguese mother who sued the State over the suicide of her son – saying he should have been better protected by the psychiatric hospital in which he was interned.

Lawyers acting for the woman say the ruling puts new emphasis on Portuguese courts and authorities to protect those incapable of protecting themselves.

The tragedy of António José Carvalho was that he had a history of mental problems, and had repeatedly attempted suicide.

Yet when he went missing from Coimbra’s Sobral Sid hospital “no one noticed… until it was too late”, explains Público.

By the time Carvalho’s absence from supper was logged, he had thrown himself into the path of an ongoing train.

His mother, convinced the authorities had failed her son, embarked on a bid for damages – rejected by the country’s lower courts which ruled that a psychiatric patient “in a state of balance” should not be treated like a criminal (ie. should not be prevented from coming and going as he or she pleased).

Only one judge, on appeal, wrote a note attached to the final ruling saying that the hospital had a duty to watch its patients, “particularly those with suicidal tendencies”.

“Tózé’s mother”, as Público says the woman became known, took the matter to the ECHR – and judges finally have ruled that the lone judge’s note should have carried a lot more weight.

Pronouncing today (Tuesday), the ECHR has condemned Portugal to paying “Tózé’s mother” €26,000.

Lawyers Pais do Amaral e Ana Sousa say the family is “very happy” with the outcome, which will hopefully ensure that other patients in future do not end up like “Tózé”.

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