Justice

Largest Wrongful Death Settlement In California History For Inmate Who Didn’t Get Proper Treatment

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The nation’s largest prison healthcare provider just agreed to pay $8.3 million — the largest wrongful death settlement California has ever seen — to the children of an inmate who received inadequate healthcare and died several days later. The settlement comes more than four years after jail officials used excessive force that resulted in the inmate’s death.

According to a lawsuit filed against Corizon Correctional Healthcare in 2011, Martin Harrison’s death was due, in large part, to the inadequate medical attention that he received. Three days before his death, Harrison was arrested for failing to appear in court, after which he was placed in an isolation cell in Alameda County’s Santa Rita Jail. During a medical exam that was conducted upon his arrival, Harrison informed Corizon’s Licensed Vocation Nurses about his history of alcoholism, but the nurses failed to administer the necessary treatment to prevent Harrison from experiencing alcohol withdrawal. On August 16, he began to hallucinate and lash out in his cell. And after Harrison broke food trays and clogged the toilet in his cell, prison deputies tried to subdue him by beating and tasing him. Harrison died from cardiac arrest, shortly thereafter.

Corizon and Alameda County previously settled a federal lawsuit in December 2013, but on Tuesday the health care provider settled a separate lawsuit filed by Harrison’s family. The company also committed to end its use of vocational nurses instead of registered nurses, which saved the company 35 percent of its service costs.

Although the Eighth Amendment guarantees that all prisoners have the right to adequate health care, this is not the first time Corizon has been accused of medical neglect. In Arizona, a stroke victim said that medical staff refused to change his diaper, which left him with ulcers and sores. Staff also reportedly told sick inmates to pray, instead of providing the necessary treatment. A 73-year-old woman who filed a lawsuit in New Mexico alleges that she was left unattended in an isolation cell for 34 days. Kentucky employees resigned after two inmates died from medical neglect.

Still, Corizon remains a major player in prison healthcare. It currently serves 345,000 inmates in 531 facilities nationwide.