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$475,000 Settlement In California Suicide Suit

On December 20, 2005, the county of San Mateo, California, agreed to pay $475,000 to settle a wrongful death lawsuit involving a mentally ill woman who committed suicide in the county jail.

Angela Ramirez, 23, was imprisoned at the Women's Correctional Center after being sentenced to 120 days on a minor drug charge. At the jail Ramirez showed obvious symptoms of severe withdrawal from prescription drugs, injured herself numerous times, repeatedly asked for psychiatric medication, and threatened suicide. Even so, she received no medical treatment, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Untreated and suffering, Ramirez slipped unnoticed into a shower area on April 6, 2003, and hanged herself with a bed sheet. It took jailers 1 ½ to 2 hours to locate her.

Ramirez's parents, Lisa Fidler and Rito Ramirez, had initially sought $11 million in their lawsuit--which alleged claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law--but decided to settle due to the difficulty of trying a case in federal court, said one of their attorneys, Randall Scarlett of the San Francisco-based Scarlett Law Group. "Under California law, damages for medical negligence would have been capped at $250,000 for each parent, or $500,000 total", said Scarlett. "They felt that by getting the $475,000 they had been vindicated, that Angela's death had been vindicated", Scarlett said. "This is in no way a loss."

The aging jail was built in 1980 to house 89 women but held 130 at the time of Ramirez's death. A poor layout made it hard to supervise, said Sheriff Don Horsley, who also acknowledged a personnel shortage at the jail.
"Its a sad case", said Horsley. "If we had taken it all the way to trial, we could have won it ... But the truth of the matter is she came in there alive".

Kevin R. McLean of Belli & McLean Law Offices in San Francisco and Cal J. Potter of Potter Law Offices in Las Vegas also represented the parents. See: Fidler v. San Mateo County, USDC ND CA, Case No. C-04-1404-SC.

Additional Source:, Associated Press

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Related legal case

Fidler v. San Mateo County