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Wyoming Prison Officials Settle Poisoning and Medical Suits for over $200,000

Wyoming Prison Officials Settle Poisoning And Medical Suits for over $200,000

In August 2000, Wyoming officials agreed to settle two consolidated cases for $200,000 in damages, costs, and attorney fees. The cases were filed in a Wyoming federal District Court by the survivors of two prisoners who died after being exposed too dangerous work conditions. Another related case settled for an undisclosed amount. A third unrelated case, based on medical negligence, also settled for an undisclosed amount.

On January 5, 1996, Douglas Wilson and James Sheets, prisoners at the Wyoming State Penitentiary (WSP) in Rawlins, Wyoming, were ordered to work in an ash silo at WSP.

Warden Jim Ferguson, Assoc. Warden William Hettger, and other WSP officials knew the silo contained high carbon monoxide levels. Still, Wilson and Sheets were forced to work in the silo without warning of the danger and without air monitors or breathing apparatus.

Both died as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning. Representatives of the prisoners' estates then filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Later on January 5, 1996, Steven Hayes was ordered to work in the same silo under threat of disciplinary action, even though he expressed concerns for his safety. He worked there under circumstances similar to Wilson's and Sheets'.

As a result of carbon monoxide poisoning, Hayes subsequently suffered brain damage and injury to his eyes. His lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ensued.

Sheets died on January 5, 1996. Wilson died in a Denver Colorado hospital on January 14, 1996. After Ferguson refused to have Hayes flown, he was driven to the hospital in Denver. The delay in his treatment exacerbated his carbon monoxide related injuries.

On October 31, 1998, Jody Mapp, also a prisoner at WSP, died of a heart attack in the WSP infirmary. Mapp had a history of serious heart problems, severe diabetes, and hypertension. Mapp began serving three consecutive onetotwo year sentences in 1996. Wexford Health Sources, Inc. (Wexford), a private company that provided health care to prisoners at WSP, denied Mapp medication and other treatment for his infirmities throughout his incarceration at WSP.

Mapp's condition worsened as a result of his not receiving his medication, until he twice underwent heart surgery in 1998. Wexford refuses Mapp medication ordered by his surgeon and left him unattended in the infirmary, where he died, unable to request assistance. Mapp's body was not discovered until after rigor mortis had set in, at least four hours after his death.

Mapp originally filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in 1997. The District Court dismissed that case, but the Tenth Circuit Court Of Appeals reversed the District Court. See: Hunt v. Uphoff, 199 F.3d. 1220 (1999). Mapp died during litigation, and his surviving family members filed an amended complaint, keeping the case alive.

Attorney Walter Urbigkit of Cheyenne, Wyoming represented the above plaintiffs. He said that Wexford has been replaced by Correctional Medical Services, another private prison health care company, "which shows greater expertise in administration and even a worse quality of medical care."

In the first carbon monoxide cases, the plaintiffs settled for $200,000. Each will receive $100,000, which will be shared with counsel, Mr. Urbigkit. The single carbon monoxide case was subject to a confidential settlement agreement for an undisclosed amount. The cases are unreported. See, respectively: Hoke & Sheets v. Ferguson, USDC DWY Case No. 99CV257B; and Hayes v. Ferguson, USDC DWY Case No. 98CV002B.

The medical neglect case was also subject to a confidential settlement agreement for an undisclosed amount. The proceedings after remand, as discussed above, are unreported. See: Mapp v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc., USDC DWY Case Nom 99CV 048J.

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Related legal cases

Hoke and Sheets v. Ferguson

Mapp v. Wexford Health Services, Inc

Hayes v. Ferguson