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EMSA, Florida County to Pay $500,000 for Untreated Ectopic Pregnancy

Broward County, Florida, and EMSA Correctional Care, Inc., must pay $500,000 to a county prisoner who suffered permanent injury and weeks of unnecessary pain because jail medical personnel failed to diagnose or treat her ectopic pregnancy, a federal jury decided on January 8, 2004.

Charleen Foree, 38, was imprisoned in the North Broward Jail on April 17, 2000, for failing to appear in court on a cocaine possession charge. In early May Foree began experiencing severe abdominal pain and was unable to get out of bed. Medical personnel employed by the jail's for-profit medical provider, EMSA, treated her symptoms with milk of magnesia and an over-the-counter pain reliever. Foree was never taken to the hospital, tested for pregnancy, or even seen by a doctor.

On May 26--20 days after she began experiencing symptoms--Foree was released to a halfway house. There another nurse told her to tolerate the pain as long as she could. The next day Foree called an ambulance and was taken to a local hospital. After diagnosing her with an ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy in which the ovum implants somewhere other than the uterine wall) doctors performed emergency surgery. During the operation they removed a large abscess and a pint of congealed blood from her abdomen.

Foree sued the jails medical director, Erin Cody, M.D., and EMSA--a subsidiary of the infamously inept Prison Health Services (PHS)--in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. She alleged cruel and unusual punishment in violation of her Eighth Amendment rights and medical malpractice. Specifically, Foree claimed the delay in treatment caused her to suffer a ruptured fallopian tube and ovary. As a consequence Foree claimed she suffers continuing gynecological problems and cannot bear children without in vitro fertilization.

At trial Cody and EMSA argued that their diagnosis of pelvic inflammatory disease was reasonable. The jury sided with Foree, however, and found that the defendants were deliberately indifferent to her serious medical needs.
The jury took just 2 hours to reach its decision and award Foree a total of $500,000. The award included $300,000 for past pain and suffering, $100,000 for loss of organs, and $100,000 for future medical costs. In deciding the award, the jury was apparently influenced by the argument of Foree's counsel, Jeffrey Norkin of Plantation, Florida. Norkin argued that Foree had suffered about 22 days, or 528 hours. At $10 per hour, he contended, an award of $250,000 against each defendant was not unreasonable. See: Foree v. EMSA Correctional Care, Inc., USDC SD FL, Case No. 02-61356-CIV-Marra.

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Related legal case

Foree v. EMSA Correctional Care, Inc.