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Washington DOC Settles Hep C Death Suit for $1 Million

Washington DOC Settles HEP C Death Suit for $1 Million

On October 30, 2002 the Washington Department of Corrections agreed to pay $1 million to the family of Philip Montgomery to settle a wrongful death suit filed by his survivors. Montgomery had hepatitis C and died from a lack of treatment on September 7, 1999, while confined at the McNeil Island Corrections Center (MICC) in Steilacoom, Washington.

The details of Montgomery's death by medical neglect are discussed at length in Angela Galloway's article in this issue of PLN, and will not be repeated here. On March 14, 2001, Montgomery's family filed suit in Pierce county superior court claiming that Montgomery's death was due to the refusal of various MICC employees, including then superintendent Dan Snyder and MICC medical director Thomas Lucky, to provide Montgomery with appropriate treatment for his hepatitis C, even as he died from his illness. The suit claimed that this refusal to treat Montgomery, even as his condition and symptoms worsened, violated his Eighth amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment as well as constituting medical malpractice under state law. The state was also sued for negligence for its role in Montgomery's death. Lt. James Dimotta was also sued for refusing to allow Montgomery's family to be with him in the hospital as he died. Dimotta ensured that Montgomery died alone in a Tacoma hospital with no family support or comfort.

The state of Washington settled the suit by paying Montgomery's survivors $1 million on the week the case was scheduled to go to trial before a Pierce county jury. The state denied any wrongdoing and claimed it settled to avoid the risk of a higher judgment had a jury ruled on the matter.

Tacoma lawyer Jack Connolly, who represented the plaintiffs, said the settlement "Validates the fact that a prisoner's life is worth something. Though he had had problems in his past, he was still entitled to quality medical care. They shouldn't have let him languish there. His infection was very, very treatable."

This settlement is the highest dollar amount ever paid in Washington State in a lawsuit involving a prisoner. It is the first time the state of Washington has paid seven figures to settle a prisoner related lawsuit. Despite Montgomery's death, the Washington DOC continues its practice of refusing to treat prisoners infected with hepatitis C. The cost of such treatment is around $20,000 per year per patient. Apparently the Washington DOC has made the policy decision to risk the occasional wrongful death suit than to save lives by treating prisoners infected with hepatitis C.

The plaintiffs in this case were represented by Jack Connolly and Darrell Cochran of the Tacoma law firm of Gordon, Thomas, Honeywell, Malanca, Peterson and Daheim. In addition to representing PLN in censorship litigation, the firm has obtained significant judgments and settlements in cases against the DOC involving parole supervision and medical neglect. See: Estate of Philip Montgomery v. McNeil Island Correctional Center, Pierce County Superior Court case No. 01-2-063877.

Additional Sources: Seattle Times, Seattle Post Intelligencer

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Related legal case

Estate of Philip Montgomery v. McNeil Island CC

The settlement is available in the brief bank.