DETROIT (USA TODAY) — The family of a 20-year-old who hanged himself got approval this week to proceed with a lawsuit against a gas station where they believe the man bought synthetic marijuana that they say led to his death.
But Oakland County Circuit Judge Michael Warren dismissed their claim of negligence Monday against the owner of a Mobil gas station in Royal Oak. The case will go to a jury trial on two other grounds June 2 — a claim under the Michigan Consumer Protection Act and breach of contract, according to attorneys for both sides.
The lawsuit says John Anthony Sdao "was driven to commit suicide" in April 2012 after ingesting synthetic cannabis, known by its street names K-2 and Spice. The substance, an herbal mixture sprayed with chemicals, was legal at the time of Sdao's death.
Jon Marko, a lawyer for the Sdao estate, said Royal Oak police warned local businesses about the dangers of the product. The lawsuit alleges the gas station owner should have known the drug was dangerous and should have stopped selling it. The products became illegal in Michigan in July 2012, three months after Sdao's death.
"This absolutely could have been prevented," Marko said of Sdao's death. Sdao's father, John Sam Sdao, said his son had "everything to live for."
But an attorney for the gas station said there was little evidence to show that synthetic marijuana caused Sdao's death. John Anthony Sdao was "in the middle of a bad breakup with his girlfriend, and he had just been arrested for possession of actual marijuana a few days before," said Constantine Kallas of Bloomfield Hills, who represents the Sara Corporation, owner of the gas station.
"So he had a lot of stressors in his life at the time," Kallas said. The two sides differ as to whether the amount of the drug found in the man's body was enough to have seriously affected his behavior just before he hanged himself in his bedroom.
The lawsuit says casualties related to synthetic drugs had been well publicized by early 2012, including an overdose in Bloomfield Township and a murder in Farmington Hills, and the defendants disregarded the risk to make a profit. Kallas said that "when it was brought to their attention that it was going to be made illegal, they just dropped it right then."