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Survivors Win $1,825,000 in Wisconsin Prisoner Suicide Suit

The parents and estate of a Wisconsin state prisoner who committed suicide after being taken off of his anti-psychotic medication won a $1,825,000 jury award in Wisconsin federal court.

Matthew Sanville, a 26 year-old Wisconsin state prisoner, was prosecuted for assaulting his mother. While in jail, he was successfully treated with anti-psychotic medication, which was continued when he arrived at the Waupun Correctional Institution.

Sanville was removed from the anti-psychotic medication when he had an emergency appendectomy at a hospital. After surgery, Sanville said he didn't want to go back on the medication even though the surgeon had prescribed it. He was returned to prison and left off his medication.

Sanville became increasingly psychotic, got in a fight and was put in isolation. He committed suicide after about three weeks in isolation, during which he lost 20% of his body weight.

Represented by attorneys Robert Bennett, Eric Hageman, and Joe Margulies of Minneapolis, Sanville's estate filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

The court dismissed the suit. The estate appealed and the Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal [PLN, Nov. 2002], Sanville v. McCaughty, 266 F.3d 724 (7th Cir. 2001) allowing the estate to pursue civil rights, wrongful death and malpractice claims.

On October 10, 2002, a jury found that Ivy Scaburdine, a guard who observed Sanville's sudden loss of weight and return to psychotic behavior, was deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs, but that this did not cause Sanville's injuries. The jury also found that Prison psychiatrist Yogesh Pareek and prison psychologist Stephen D. Fleck committed medical malpractice by failing to put Sanville back on his anti-psychotic medication, awarding $1,650,000 in actual damages. The jury found that Fleck was deliberately indifferent to Sanville's serious medical needs and awarded an additional $175,000 in punitive damages against him.

The award was divided between the mother, father and estate with $200,000 awarded to Marti Sanville (mother) for future loss of society. Daniel Sanville (father) was awarded $500,000 for future loss of society and $100,000 for future lost pecuniary contribution. The estate was awarded $600,000 for past pain and suffering, $175,000 for punitive damages, and $250,000 for loss of life. See: Sanville v. Scaburdine, USDC ED WI, Case No. 99-C-715.

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Related legal case

Sanvill v. Scaburdine