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Federal Prisoner Awarded $150.00 For Food Poisoning

On February 17, 2006, the U.S. District Court for the Middle district of Florida awarded $150.00 to a federal prisoner who contracted food poisoning while imprisoned at FCC Coleman-Low.

On April 23, 2002, prisoners eating breakfast in the chow hall were served ham that had been stored overnight in a malfunctioning cooler. Several of the prisoners, including plaintiff Guillermo Gil, became ill and were treated in the prison medical department. Gil, who experienced diarrhea, chills, nausea, vomiting, headache, and dizziness, was given phenergan for the vomiting and immodium for diarrhea. After returning to his housing unit Gil testified he was unable to eat and did not feel better for three days.
Gil further claimed he became fearful of eating chow hall food, developed a taste aversion to ham, and lost 15 pounds as a result of being unable to eat certain foods.

Gil sued under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. § 2671 et seq., claiming the United States was liable for damages relating to the food poisoning. The United States admitted liability and a non-jury trial was held on February 13, 2006, to assess damages.

Initially the Court noted that as a federal prisoner Gils recovery under the FTCA was limited in that no [prisoner] may bring a civil action against the United States ... for mental or emotional injury suffered while in custody without a prior showing of physical injury.

Based on the evidence presented, the Court found that Gil suffered the effects of acute gastroenteritis for three days. However, the Court further determined that the evidence was insufficient to establish that Gil continued to suffer physical effects from the food poisoning beyond that time. Moreover, the Court observed that Gil provided no objective evidence showing that he suffered mental injury from the incident or that his aversion to ham extends to other foods such that he is unable to sustain himself.

Consequently, the Court concluded Gil was not entitled to damages for his asserted mental injury, but he was entitled to intangible damages of $150 for pain and suffering, inconvenience, and loss of capacity for enjoyment of life. Gil was represented by Jose H. Cortes, Jr. of the Ocala, Florida firm Blanchard, Merriam, Adel, & Kirkland. Cases such as this affecting large number of prisoners with relatively minor injury are probably better brought as class actions. See: Gil v. United States Of America, USDC MD FL, Case No. 5:03-CV-198-0C-10GPJ.

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Related legal case

Gil v. United States Of America