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Court Awards $146,000 in Arizona Medical Indifference Case

An Arizona prisoner was awarded over $146,000 in damages in January 2000 after he filed suit claiming that an Arizona prison nurse's care amounted to deliberate indifference.

Manuel Covarrubias, 46, was a prisoner at the state prison at Douglas, Arizona in April, 1995, when he was injured while working. Covarrubias, who was working with a hammer and nails, said he felt a nail enter his eye. He immediately notified a guard and was taken to the medical facility where he explained his injury through an interpreter.

Covarrubias was seen about an hour and a half later by defendant Gaylon, a licensed practical nurse. After examining the eye, Gaylon advised Covarrubias that he could not be seen by a doctor until 1 P.M. the following day.

After returning to his quarters, the pain worsened and Covarrubias again requested to see the doctor. After another examination, Nurse Gaylon again told the plaintiff that he would have to wait until the following day to see the doctor and that if he continued demanding to see the doctor, she would have him "locked down."

In the suit, Covarrubias also alleged that Gaylon altered his medical records to conceal an error in evaluation, scheduling and treatment.

Covarrubias was seen the next day by a physician, who determined that a specialist's intervention was urgently necessary, and had Covarrubias immediately transported to Tuscon to see an ophthalmologist.

Dr. Paul R. Horowitz, the ophthalmologist who treated Covarrubias, testified that Nurse Gaylon's "treatment" fell below the reasonable standard of care by failing to make a visual acuity examination, failure to record the initial eye evaluation, and failure to chart whether the pupil was regular or not.

Dr. Horowitz further testified that the application of an eye patch and the oneday delay in referral to a physician, dramatically increased the probability of Covarrubias suffering a permanent injury.

Covarrubias, who was represented by attorneys Alfred S. Donau, III, of Donau & Bolt, and Francisco Leon, a sole practitioner, was awarded the following sums: $50,000 for pain, discomfort, disfigurement, suffering and emotional distress; $8,000 for future cataract surgery; plus $88,564 for loss of earning capacity. In addition, he was awarded attorney's fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988. See : Covarrubias v. Arizona , No. CV 95644 TUC WDB, USDC Southern District of Arizona.

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Related legal case

Covarrubias v. Arizona