Ala. man whose case changed mental care dies at 57

By the Associated Press | November 3, 2011 | 4:05 PM EDT

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — An Alabama man whose lawsuit helped lead to nationwide changes in mental health care has died.

Ricky Wyatt was 57. He died Tuesday at a Tuscaloosa hospital.

He was 15 when he became the plaintiff in a 1970 federal lawsuit over conditions at a psychiatric hospital. The case, Wyatt vs. Stickney, became a class-action that took more than 30 years to resolve.

The teen was never diagnosed with mental illness, but was sent to the hospital because he was causing trouble in school.

In 1971, a federal judge ruled that the Alabama Department of Mental Health was failing to provide adequate medical care, violating patients' civil liberties and rights to due process.

The ruling and agreements that followed were the basis for federal minimum standards of institutional mental care.