SAN FRANCISCO -- The mother of a UC Berkeley student left severely brain-damaged in 2010 after a drug overdose at a campus residence sued the University of California regents and the Berkeley Student Cooperative on Thursday, saying they knew of rampant drug abuse at the house but failed to protect the students.
Madelyn Bennett of San Diego is seeking damages that could soar into the millions of dollars from UC, which owns the Cloyne Court co-op, and from the agency that leases and manages the residence.
Her son, John Bennett Gibson, requires round-the-clock nursing and custodial care, according to the lawsuit filed on his behalf in Alameda County Superior Court.
Gibson was a 21-year-old junior on March 18, 2010, when his roommate at Cloyne noticed at about 9 a.m. that Gibson appeared to be having a bad dream, the suit states.
While the roommate is not named in the suit, it accuses him of giving Gibson unspecified illegal drugs the night before. It says they and the roommate's girlfriend took the drugs together.
By 11 a.m., the roommate saw that Gibson "did not appear to be breathing and had bluish lips," according to the lawsuit, which quotes from the police report.
Instead of calling paramedics, the roommate and another resident performed CPR on Gibson then moved him into another room and didn't call 911 until 1 p.m., according to the lawsuit.
Gibson had a heart attack because of the drugs he took, but he was deprived of necessary oxygen and suffered a brain injury because Cloyne residents waited so long to get help, according to the suit.
Bennett blames the Berkeley Student Cooperative for establishing house rules that discouraged students from promptly calling police or paramedics by requiring them to ask permission from house leaders to make the calls, and to do so only as a last resort.
This "created a 'wild-west' environment at Cloyne, where residents believed that 'anything goes' and there would be no accountability for illegal drug trafficking or abuse," the suit states.
About 150 students live in the low-rent cooperative at 2600 Ridge Road near the Berkeley campus.
The suit says drugs were an ongoing and well-known problem at Cloyne, and that the regents were legally responsible for doing something about it.
Bennett's lawyer, Charles Kelly, said the case is like that of landlords who bear responsibility if they rent to known criminals, or of motels that fail to protect guests by installing door peepholes and chains. He has litigated and settled both types of cases, he said.
The regents did not respond to requests for comment.
Lawyers for the Berkeley Student Cooperative were unavailable to comment Thursday.
But Jan Stokley, executive director of the agency that manages 20 co-ops and apartments for 1,250 students, said keeping residents safe is the top priority.
"Illegal activity of any kind, including drug use and underage drinking, is prohibited in the co-ops," Stokley said. "The distribution of drugs on co-op property is strictly banned."
Bennett, pointing to a second overdose at Cloyne four months after her son's, said her goal is to force the university to "pay enough money that they will agree to make meaningful changes so that no other family has to go through this."
Her son's care costs $300,000 a year, she said, and she decided to sue after unsuccessful efforts to get the Berkeley Student Cooperative's insurance company to pay for it.