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Oklahoma Jail Pays $385,000 Settlement in Baby's Death

Oklahoma Jail Pays $385,000 Settlement
in Baby's Death

On December 11, 2002, Oklahoma County, Oklahoma agreed to settle a medical neglect suit by paying $385,000 to Deborah Smith, 31, a former prisoner in the Oklahoma county jail. While imprisoned in the jail in March, 1998, Smith repeatedly requested medical attention for complications with her pregnancy. Jail medical staff ignored her. On March 18, 1998, Smith prematurely gave birth to a baby boy who died for lack of care in the jail. Smith then filed suit against Oklahoma county, the county commissioners, sheriff John Whetsel and several jail employees, claiming that deliberate indifference to her medical needs and the baby's by jail staff had led to the child's death.

The case went to trial in September, 2002, and a federal jury returned a verdict finding the defendants were not liable for the child's death. The defendant's had argued that Smith had spontaneously aborted the child. On October 3, 2002, federal district court judge Tim Leonard granted Smith a new trial finding that the jury's verdict was against the weight of the evidence. The county then filed motions asking for a change of venue and that judge Leonard recuse himself from the case due to claimed bias against the defendants.

On December 11, 2002, shortly before the new trial was scheduled to begin, the county agreed to pay Smith $385,000 to settle her claims. Smith was represented by Oklahoma City attorneys Stephen Clarke and Glenn Schrader Jr. and Mark Hammons.

"That will be a complete settlement of her claim. We're very satisfied with the settlement results, and we're hopeful that it will provide some impetus to improvement of conditions at the jail," Hammons told media. Hammons said he was confident Smith would have won at a retrial but he believed a settlement was in his clients best interests. See: Smith v. Oklahoma County, US DC, WD OK, case No. 00CV-512.

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Related legal case

Smith v. Oklahoma