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Philadelphia Settles Negligent Supervision Suit for $3.5 Million

On November 19, 2004, the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, agreed to pay
$3.5 million to a former prisoner who suffered permanent brain damage as a
result of his failed suicide attempt in a city jail.

In 1999 Christopher Foster, 22, was arrested and imprisoned on an
unspecified charge. During intake at a precinct jail Foster informed his
captors that he had attempted suicide in the past. Jailers noted this on
the admission paperwork and placed Foster in an observation cell. Soon
thereafter Foster was transferred to police headquarters and placed in a
standard cell with no special supervision. Foster waited until his new
cellmate was asleep, then tied his shirt to the cell door's open bars and
hung himself.

Foster was cut down when his cellmate awoke and alerted jailers. By then,
however, he had already been deprived of oxygen for so long that he
suffered permanent brain damage. He lost his ability to speak, though he
can open his eyes and reacts to hospital staff. He also appears to feel
pain. The brain damage also caused his feet to contract inward and his arms
to contract to his chest. Surgery was required to relieve the contractures.

Through his guardian, Foster sued the City of Philadelphia in the U.S.
District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania under 42 U.S.C. §
1983 for violating his civil rights. Foster specifically claimed the City
had acted with deliberate indifference for his safety by failing to
properly train police how to recognize and deal with potentially suicidal
prisoners. He sought $9 million for medical and other expenses based on a
20-year life expectancy.

At trial Foster's prison and jail management expert, Dr. Robert Fosen,
faulted the City for not training police to automatically place prisoners
in suicide-prevention cells when prior suicide attempts were indicated.
Fosen also testified that Philadelphia's suicide-prevention policies and
related training fell below the national standard of care.

The City settled during trial for $3.5 million. Foster was represented by
attorney Jonathan M. Cohen of the Philadelphia law firm Kline & Specter.
See: Foster v. City of Philadelphia, USDC ED PA, Case No. 01-3810.

Source: VerdictSearch Pennsylvania Reporter

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Related legal case

Foster v. City of Philadelphia