Jail May Be Liable for not Treating Man in Solitary

     (CN) – A county jail must face claims that it failed to treat an inmate who died after coughing up blood and suffering from chest pain for weeks in solitary, a federal judge ruled.
     Days after entering solitary confinement for fighting with another inmate at the Pittsburgh county jail, Derek Black was coughing up blood-tinged sputum and suffering from chest pain, according to an Allegheny Correctional Health Services report dated April 19, 2012.
     Though Derek repeatedly requested medical assistance for two weeks, and a nurse placed him on the infirmary’s priority list, he still was not seen, the complaint states. A medical assistant allegedly claimed that he was “faking.”
     Derek was finally examined on April 28 after writing a request for medical attention that said he had “sharp pain … right below [his] rib cage” when breathing. “It might be my lung or a mus[c]le … It hurts so bad sometime I see all white,” he wrote.
     Medical records do not indicate, however, that he received treatment, according to the complaint.
     The following day, Derek wrote another request for his “terrible pain” that “hurts so bad I pass out,” but was not sent to the hospital until the next day.
     Over the next four days, Derek was resuscitated twice, underwent surgical chest tube placement, was placed on a ventilator, and suffered anoxic brain damage, the complaint states.
     Derek died May 6 as a result of “one or more pulmonary conditions, including complicated effusion, epymema, prior injury, or pneumonia, which, according to the Mercy Hospital records, were ‘left untreated'” in an effort to reduce costs, his family claims in a federal complaint.
     They assert Eighth Amendment violations and deliberate indifference to Derek’s serious medical needs.
     U.S. District Judge David Cercone refused to dismiss the case last week, adopting a recommendation from U.S. Magistrate Judge Cynthia Reed Eddy.
     “The amended complaint alleges that despite repeated calls by corrections officers to the jail infirmary on his behalf, and decedent’s complaints to medical personnel that his condition was worsening and he was in pain severe enough that he lost consciousness, he was seen twice but did not receive treatment.” Eddy wrote. “He was not taken to the jail infirmary until April 30th, and was transferred directly to the hospital. Despite extremely aggressive medical treatment, he died six days later. According to hospital records, decedent died due to defendants’ failure to provide him with adequate medical treatment. Plaintiffs allege that defendants were aware that similar severe lapses in medical care had occurred in the past, yet willfully failed to correct circumstances leading to those lapses. Because of its markedly similar facts, and persuasive reasoning, the court adopts the following statement made by the district court in Shultz as its finding in this matter: ‘Because there are allegations of actual knowledge through express policy formation and/or through inaction in the face of established practices and prior incidents of constitutionally deficient care to detainees, the alleged factual matter, when taken as true, raises a plausible basis for establishing liability against [defendants].'”
     Relying on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recognition of the state’s duty “to provide medical care for those who it is punishing by incarceration” in the 1976 ruling Estelle v. Gamble, the magistrate judge recommended that acting warden William Stickman III is not entitled to qualified immunity.
     “Plaintiffs allege that Stickman is liable for formulating, approving, or tolerating a policy and/or practice of not providing adequate medical care to jail inmates,” Eddy wrote. “The court finds, too, that the law governing this claim had been well established for more than 35 years at the time of the alleged wrongs.”
     Since no objections to the report were filed by June 24, the District Court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss.

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