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Wisconsin County Settles Negligent Death Claim for $1.2 Million

Wisconsin County Settles Negligent Death Claim For $1.2 Million

On July 24, 2003, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, agreed to pay $1.2 million to settle a claim arising from a man's death in the county jail.

The deceased, former president of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents, Paul Schilling, was apparently arrested around noon on July 22, 1999, by the Dane County sheriff's department on an outstanding warrant for driving while intoxicated. At the jail someone in the medical department diagnosed Schilling, 51, as having a blood-alcohol level of .06 (not legally drunk) and an extremely high blood sugar level resulting from diabetes. Schilling had also been a lawyer and judge but, suffering from alcoholism, he had become unemployed, homeless and divorced at the time of his arrest.

Schilling apparently had his diabetes medication on him when he was arrested, but the medicine was not given to him at the Dane County Jail nor was it sent with him when he was transferred to the Milwaukee County Jail a few hours later. It was further alleged that the Milwaukee County Jail was not told about Schilling's low blood alcohol level or his high blood sugar level.

When Schilling arrived at the Milwaukee County Jail, jailers and medical personnel there simply assumed he was drunk and placed him in a holding cell. That evening, two deputies noticed that Schilling was unable to speak clearly when questioned, but they, too, assumed he was drunk and did nothing. Sometime early the following morning Schilling apparently slumped over the toilet in a position that resulted in his death from asphyxia. He was discovered at approximately 5:30 a.m. on July 23. According to the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner, Schilling technically died from "alcoholic ketoacidosis." This is a state similar to starvation and is due to the combined effects of chronic alcohol consumption and poor nutrition

Plaintiffs, Schilling's two adult children and his estate (and possibly four other family members), sued Dane County and Milwaukee County under state and federal law. The plaintiffs alleged that if Dane County had transferred Schilling's medicine with him or apprised Milwaukee County of his condition, or if Milwaukee County had provided Schilling even minimal medical attention, his death could have been averted.

Under Wisconsin law, the plaintiffs' state law claims against municipalities were subject to a $50,000 cap on damages, but plaintiffs had also sought punitive damages in their federal claim.

For its part, Milwaukee County eventually agreed settle the claim against it for $1.2 million. The suit was apparently dropped against Dane County in order to conclude the lawsuit. It was unclear whether Dane County paid additional money to the plaintiffs.

Of note, this case apparently resulted in procedural changes in the Milwaukee County Jail and the enactment of a state law requiring jails and prisons to exchange medical information about prisoners when they are transferred.

Plaintiffs were represented by Patrick Dunphy of the Brookfield, Wisconsin law firm Cannon & Dunphy. See: Schilling v. Milwaukee County, Milwaukee County Circuit Court, Case Number OOC 540.

Source: Wisconsin Jury Verdicts, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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Related legal case

Schilling v. Milwaukee County