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$2.5 Million Verdict in California Medical Neglect Case

On May 8, 2002, a California superior court jury awarded $2.5 million in damages for negligent medical care to a severely diabetic state prisoner, who, debilitated from insulin shock, broke his neck in a fall sustained while trying to run to the prison medical clinic.

David Padilla was incarcerated at the Calif. Rehabilitation Center (CRC) in Norco, CA for a drug possession offense. From his entry into state prison in January, 1996 until his injury in April, 1998, Padilla was an insulin-dependant diabetic with heart disease. Upon entering Norco in January, 1997, he was given medical care at CRC's unlicensed medical clinic. The clinic and its staff were not equipped to monitor and treat Padilla's diabetes. His blood sugar was never checked by CRC medical personnel in their normal course of his diabetes treatment.

On April 10, 1998, Padilla received an insulin shot at the CRC clinic at 7:30 AM. After breakfast, he returned to his dorm for a nap. He awoke feeling very ill and recognized he was going into insulin shock. Getting out of bed, he approached the dorm's door, which was locked. Guard Andrew Galvan observed Padilla's speechless, stumbling, disoriented behavior, but offered no assistance. He only ordered Padilla to quit "fucking around." Padilla's ID card was clearly marked "DIABETIC."

Padilla slipped on a plywood patch while approaching the locked door, stumbling forward, whereupon his head hit the door, breaking his neck. While he was face down on the floor, Galvan ran over and kicked him - yelling for him to get up. It was only after Padilla screamed in pain that Galvan called for assistance.

The "man down" call brought not medical help, but rather a staff fireman and his three prisoner workers. One worker rolled Padilla over in an attempt to place an ill-fitting cervical collar on him. Padilla screamed in pain and heard a pop in his neck. When the prisoner worker returned with a better fitting collar, he responded to the word that Padilla needed diabetic medication by squeezing a tube of glucose into Padilla's mouth.

Subsequently, the thee workers lifted Padilla and put him face down on a backboard for his transport to the CRC medical clinic. There, defendant Dr. Charn Toochinda directed other non-medical personnel to flip Padilla over, causing further injury. Later taken to Riverside Community Hospital with full paralysis from the neck down, Padilla was diagnosed as quadriplegic.

The lawsuit, brought both under state law and under 42 USC § 1983, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 USC § 12131 et seq., and under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (RA), 29 USC §794, alleged that defendants California Department of Corrections, CRC, Galvan, Toochinda and other CRC medical staff were knowingly negligent in their failure to provide licensed medical care for Padilla's serious medical needs. Specific claims included negligent supervision, medical malpractice, failure to summon medical care, cruel and unusual punishment, and civil rights violations under the ADA for failure to accommodate Padilla's diabetic condition.

The jury verdict of negligence was prorated against Dr. Toochinda (60%), guard Galvan and the State of California (20%) and against plaintiff Padilla (20%). Padilla's $2.5 million cash award (adjusted on a present cash value basis) covered past and future medical care as well as $400,000 for "non-economic" damages. Attorney John W. Barton sought additional fees and costs per 42 USC § 1988. The case later settled for the $2.5 million awarded. The state did not appeal. See: Padilla v. California, Riverside Superior Court No. RIC 318659, Second Amended Complaint (4/25/01); Judgment (5/8/02).

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Related legal case

Padilla v. California