Vet’s family settles suit over death

WARREN – Probate Judge Thomas A. Swift on Monday approved a $200,000 settlement reached in a lawsuit against two doctors filed by the surviving family members of an Iraqi War veteran from Champion who committed suicide after being treated by the doctors.

Jurors in another courtroom were unable to reach a verdict and told another judge they were deadlocked after two days of deliberations in January in the case of Michael Ecker, 25, of Champion, whose family sued family practice physicians Dr. Frank G. Veres and his son, Dr. Zachary F. Veres, in Champion.

The vet put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger after saluting his father in the family’s backyard in August 2009.

The doctors were sued by Matt Ecker, also of Champion, who filed the action in behalf of his son, who had been treated by the doctors for pain and depression after suffering post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic head injuries in battle.

After the hung jury caused a mistrial in the case heard earlier by Judge Ronald Rice, both sides continued to deliberate before any re-trial was scheduled. The settlement triggered a hearing before Swift, who must approve expenditures in wrongful death cases.

Swift approved $30,000 payouts to each of the veteran’s mother, father and brother. Another nearly $40,000 in expenses and $70,000 in attorneys fees also were approved.

The family was represented by attorney Brian Kopp.

One juror explained in January that the panel of three men and five women weren’t even able to move past the issue of whether the doctors had breached the medical standard of care. If a majority of six out of the eight jurors could have agreed on that issue in favor of the Eckers, they were to decide if any breach caused the suicide.

With two medical experts siding with the Eckers, Kopp tried to convince jurors that the doctors increased the veteran’s medication, but never referred him for psychiatric treatment. Kopp was critical of the doctors, saying they didn’t try hard enough to retrieve Ecker’s medical records from the Veterans Administration.

Both the doctors insisted, though, that Ecker never showed any suicidal signs and was on good terms with his family and his girlfriend. He also had just landed a job the week that he killed himself.