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Alabama Prisoner Awarded $90,000 For Work-Related Eye Injury

by Michael Rigby

On February 5, 2004, the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) agreed to pay $90,000 to a prisoner who was refused safety glasses and later suffered an eye injury while working at a prison recycling center.

Plaintiff Brian Dodd, a Gulf War veteran serving a short sentence for a drug-related conviction, was assigned to work at the Elmore Correctional Facility's recycling center. Prisoners at the facility are forced to work for free processing garbage from Alabama prisons, government offices, and other sources.

Soon after beginning his job at the recycling center in March 2002, Dodd requested safety glasses from his supervisor, Howard Robinson. Robinson refused Dodd's request and threatened him with discip1inary action if he did not get back to work.

Robinson's action contradicted an earlier class-action settlement regarding protective gear. That lawsuit, brought by Ty Alper and Marion Chartoff, attorneys with the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights, alleged unsanitary and dangerous work conditions. Despite being exposed to used syringes, medical waste, and other hazardous debris, prisoners at the recycling center were provided not protective equipment or clothing. The case settled on January 7, 2002, with the Alabama DOC agreeing to, among other things, provide workers with protective gear, including eye goggles, safety gloves, and aprons. [See Brinkley v. Harrelson, USDC MD AL, Case No. 01-A-1287-N.]

Several days after Robinson denied his request for safety goggles, a piece of glass flew into Dodd's eye as he labored at the recycling center. Dodd was taken to the prison infirmary and examined by a nurse, who referred him to an outside specialist. An opthamologist later removed glass debris from Dodd's eye and prescribed medicated eye drops.

Dodd sued Robinson in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claiming that Robinson violated his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by failing to protect him from harm.

Dodd specifically alleged that the glass caused severe and permanent injury, including persistent irritation, sensitivity to light, a blind spot, and blurry vision." Because of this Dodd asserted that he cannot read for more than 30 minutes, suffers extreme headaches, and will be unable to return to his job as a welder, which requires precise vision. Dodd further claimed that the treatment he received was inadequate.

The ADOC defended by claiming that Dodd was never injured because it had no records of the incident. In fact, in a sworn affidavit to the court, Elmore warden John E. Nagle stated that Dodd outright lied." The ADOC still claims this is the case even though interns at the Southern Center tracked down medical records relating to the incident.

So often prison officials think that no one will listen to what inmates say, and they can get away with calling them liars," said Alper, who represented Dodd. What we were able to do in this case is prove Mr. Dodd wasn't lying.

Before the case proceeded to tria1--but after its motions for summary judgment and dismissal were denied--the ADOC settled with Dodd for $90,000. The ADOC also agreed to have Dodd evaluated by a licensed opthamologist within 30 days and to pay for any necessary treatment. See: Dodd v. Robinson, USDC MD AL, Case No. 03-F-571-N.

Additional sources: Daily Mountain Eagle, Birmingham News

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Related legal case

Dodd v. Robinson