A South Carolina jury has awarded $28.5 million to the family of a mentally ill diabetic man who died from insulin deficiency while imprisoned at the Sumter County Detention Center. The verdict against Eastern Health Care Group, the jails contract medical provider in 2001, included $7.5 million in punitive damages.
Reverend Ronald Huggins, a 43-year-old pastor and clergyman, was arrested on Christmas Day 2001 for indecent exposure. Along with diabetes, Huggins suffered from schizophrenia and had been exhibiting bizarre behavior for several days. He was treated at the Tuomey Regional Medical Center and released three times in the two days prior to his arrest.
At the jail Huggins was placed in the drunk tank with no clothes, blanket, pillow, or bed. Jail personnel failed to perform an intake medical screening but did find his medical discharge from the previous day, which indicated he needed medication. According to the lawsuit, the document was forwarded to the jail nurse.
Even so, Huggins was left alone in the drunk tank for the next 24 to 36 hours. During several shift changes Huggins was observed naked at least 70 times but no staff ever interacted with him, witnesses testified. He died from insulin deficiency at about 12:15 a.m. on December 27.
He died on a tile floor with no one to care for him, no one thinking of him, said attorney Edward Bell, III, who represented the family. This case is the death of a man that was profoundly mistreated.
Bell said Eastern violated its own policies, which included screening incoming prisoners, providing 24 hour medical care to the jail, and never leaving a mentally ill prisoner unattended.
Prior to the trial, Tuomey Hospital, the emergency room doctors, and the jail settled for $1.7 million. Eastern, the only defendant left at trial, is solely responsible for the $28.5 million award. Along with Bell of the Bell Legal Group in Georgetown, South Carolina, attorneys C. Carter Elliot Jr. and Eugene C. Fulton, Jr. assisted with the case. See: Estate of Huggins v. Eastern Health Care, Sumter County Court of Common Pleas, Case No. 03-CP-43-1217.
Sources: Lawyers Weekly USA, AP, myrtlebeachonline.com
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Related legal case
Estate of Huggins v. Eastern Health Care
|Cite||Sumter County Court of Common Pleas, Case No. 03-C|
|Level||State Trial Court|