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Los Angeles County Pays $800,000 To Settle County Jail Medical Suit for Untreated Lupus

Los Angeles County Pays $800,000 To Settle
County Jail Medical Suit for Untreated Lupus

by John E. Dannenberg

On June 3, 2002, the Los Angeles (L.A.) County, California Claims Board agreed to pay $800,000 to settle medical negligence and consortium loss claims by a prisoner and his wife for the failure of the Los Angeles Sheriff's county jail and medical staff to properly treat the prisoner's serious medical needs while incarcerated at the North County Correctional Facility from October 1997 through January 1998.

Thirty-six year old Larry Small was seen by L.A. County Sheriff's North County medical staff on October 20, 1997, complaining of a two week long fever and 13 pound weight loss. His blood tests showed both anemia and renal (kidney) insufficiency. Although he was given antibiotics, no follow-up was given.

Small's wife, sister and cellmate alleged that from October 20 to November 17, 1997, Small continued to suffer fever, lose weight and developed a rash across his nose - while jail personnel refused his requests for further medical aid. On November 18, medical personnel examined a rash on his upper arm, while new blood tests confirmed the earlier diagnoses. But they failed to take Small's temperature, take his vital signs or monitor his further weight loss. This time he was given a topical skin ointment, but no further follow-up. Despite complaints from Small's wife, he was not seen again until December 5, when medical personnel again failed to conduct any tests, make further diagnoses or schedule follow-up. He continued to deteriorate to December 26, when jail clinic personnel observed an additional 27 pound weight loss, persistent fever, night sweats, skin rash and loss of appetite. He was given more antibiotics and transferred to the Men's Central Jail on December 27, where his low white blood count was noted, but no action taken. Central Jail returned Small to North County on December 27, without treatment.

On January 4, 1998, Small was found unconscious, whereupon he was transferred to Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital. Imaging tests there indicated a brain lesion, so he was transferred to USC Medical Center for further evaluation and treatment. USC interpreted the scans as a severe brain inflammation stemming from SLE (lupus) disease - a condition that while difficult to diagnose, is typified by the precise symptoms Small exhibited all the while in the county jail. USC gave him anti-inflammatory steroid treatment. .

Although Small was released from custody on January 29, he stayed at USC until February 25, whereupon he went to Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center until April 9, 1998. Small continues to suffer from permanent brain damage, including severe cognitive deficits, memory deficiencies and confusion as a result of lupus.

Anticipating trial, county counsel estimated future medical care costs of $6,254,892, future earnings loss of $928,200 and pain and suffering of $250,000 (statutorily limited). His wife could receive $250,000 for loss of consortium, and attorney fees and costs could reach $350,000. They proposed a settlement of $800,000, consisting of $250,000 cash each to Small and his wife plus attorney fees of $300,000. County counsel admitted to their own legal costs to date of $220,000 defending against the suit.

Government counsel's liability evaluation admitted that county personnels' failure to address Small's severe symptoms between October 20 ,1997 and January 4, 1998 put them in jeopardy of a jury determination of deliberate indifference to Small's serious medical needs. See: Small v. County of Los Angeles, Los Angeles Superior Court Case No. BC 208050.

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Related legal case

Small v. County of Los Angeles