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Florida County Bucks Paying $300,000 in Prisoner Medical Bills

Florida's Brevard County has been sued by three local hospitals seeking payment for medical
care rendered to prisoners who incurred injuries during their arrests. The County refused to pay,
arguing the detainees technically were not in custody at the time of treatment.

The hospitals - Parrish Medical Center in Titusville, Cape Canaveral Hospital and Holmes
Regional Medical Center in Melbourne - filed suit in 2001. The hospitals contend that Florida
law requires the county to pay the bills for care given to arrestees. Under Florida law the County
must pay, regardless of which agency makes the arrest, anytime someone is injured during an
arrest and taken to a hospital for treatment if they have no means to pay.

At issue in the lawsuits is payment for care rendered to 11 Brevard County prisoners. Most were
treated for injuries incurred during their arrest. Two of them died.

During his arrest for shoplifting, William Washington was shot by an officer from the Melbourne
Police Department (MPD). The attempt to save his life, which failed, resulted in a bill for Brevard
County of $45,554. The County was also billed for $5,829 in costs to treat Percival Wilson, who
was shot by MPD while resisting arrest for armed robbery. Because he died, Wilson could not pay
the bill.

Seven other cases resulted in injuries caused during arrest, four of which were by the Brevard
County Sheriff's Office (BCSU). At least two cases resulted from prisoners who became ill while in
the Brevard County Jail.

In the case of Horace Mitchell, the BCSU received a court order to release Mitchell to the Parrish
Medical Center as an inpatient and return him to the jail upon discharge. Mitchells 16-day stay
to be treated for his heart condition amounted to $56,254.

A state appellate court has ordered a lower court to answer three questions: 1) was Mitchell
indigent and unable to pay?; 2) were other methods of payment for medical treatment available
to Mitchell?; and 3) were Parrish's medical charges reasonable?

The appellate court upheld Florida's law making the County responsible for medical bills until the
Legislature acts otherwise. The Legislature needs to remedy these unreasonable positions
upon governments when natural illnesses occur through no fault of prison officials, the appeals
court said. All cases remain pending against the County. See: North Brevard County Hosp. Dist. v.
Brevard County Bd. of County Comrs, 899 So.2d 1200 (Fla.App. 5 Dist., 2005).

Additional Source: Florida Today

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Related legal case

North Brevard County Hosp. Dist. v. Brevard County