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Georgia Jail and Its Medical Provider Settle Jail Wrongful Death Suit For $500,000

Wilkes County, Georgia and Integrative Detention Health Services, Inc. (IDHS) paid $500,000.00 for settlement of a wrongful death suit alleging negligent medical care, deliberate indifference to serious medical needs, and wrongly allowing a paramedic to practice medicine.

Wilkes County is a small, rural Georgia community of 4,000 citizens. The average household income is $25,000.00 per year. The average house value is $65,000.00. The town jail houses 70 prisoners.

Beginning November 13, 2002, 41 year-old Gardner Dalton was incarcerated for drunk driving and probation violations and was to serve a three month term at the Wilkes County Jail. Mr. Dalton had been incarcerated there 16 other times for similar reasons. During his earlier incarcerations, IDHS had provided Mr. Dalton with a physical, mental health care, and medications for documented schizophrenia and a peptic ulcer. On this occasion, they denied him a physical or any examination by a doctor or RN.

Three weeks before Mr. Dalton was to be released from the jail, he submitted a medical request for abdominal pain. A paramedic, assigned to the jail nursing clinic, diagnosed Reflux. The paramedic also noted that Mr. Dalton was prescribed Cogentin, a drug that controls the side-effects of anti-psychotic medications. However, there was no corresponding doctors order and no prescription for anti-psychotic medication. A week later, Mr. Dalton again complained of serious stomach pain. Instead of contacting a medical doctor, the same paramedic diagnosed Reflux and gave Mr. Dalton some Tums. The paramedics notes from both clinic visits document stool tests, negative for blood. Three days later, Gardner Dalton died alone in his jail cell. The medical examiner said he died from a slow, progressive and eventual massive gastrointestinal hemorrhage.

Discovery revealed a medical record with a date different from the open records review. A forensic analyst was hired to conduct infrared testing of the original medical documents. Additional to the date change, the analyst found two ink colors in multiple places only for the treatment records concerning Mr. Daltons stomach complaints. The second ink provided the proper standard of care, (e.g. hemocult test, hemocult test results, secondary assessment, and prognosis to monitor, etc.), giving the overwhelming impression that the paramedic never conducted any hemocult tests on Mr. Dalton and otherwise summarily addressed his complaints. Discovery also revealed that the jails designated medical doctor never treated Gardner Dalton. Thus, the paramedic had unlawfully prescribed medications.

An expert averred that the denial of a physicians care, the missed opportunity to timely diagnose Mr. Daltons condition, and the paramedics practice of medicine without a license fell below the standard of care, and was directly contributory to his death. On February 6, 2006, Wilkes County settled for $75,000, and on February 10, 2006, IDHS settled for $425,000.00. Plaintiffs counsel took 12 depositions and invested $19,000.00 in pursuing the suit. See: Dalton v. Wilkes County, Georgia, Integrative Detention Health Services, Inc., Wilkes County Superior Court, Case No. 04-CV-0450. The author represented Mr. Daltons estate in this case.

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Related legal case

Dalton v. Wilkes County, Georgia, Integrative Dete