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$1.6 Million Settlements by PHS and Hillsborough County in Death of Baby Born in Florida Jail

by David M. Reutter

Inadequate medical care by Prison Health Services (PHS) has resulted in yet another death and $1.6 million in settlements for the mother of a baby boy who was born over a cell toilet at Florida's Hillsborough County Jail (HCJ).

Incarcerated for prostitution, Kimberly Grey was also pregnant. On March 4, 2004, she complained of labor pains to PHS staff for twelve hours. Despite her pleas they left her in a cell rather than send her to a hospital; Grey gave birth to her three-months premature baby boy over the cell's toilet. According to an autopsy, the baby died from a lung infection.

Grey sued PHS, HCJ, the jail's administrator, and a PHS-employed doctor and two nurses. On November 27, 2006, HCJ settled with Grey. That settlement amounted to $350,000, of which Grey kept $104,000 with the remainder going to attorney fees, expert witnesses and other costs.

HCJ denied fault despite the settlement. "We don't feel Miss Grey's loss of the baby was in any way the fault of the Sheriff's office or our personnel," said HCJ Chief Deputy Jose Docobo. "But we feel at least procedurally, some things could have been done differently."

On April 2, 2007, the matter proceeded to trial against PHS and the company's employees. After two weeks of testimony and while the jury was in deliberations, PHS settled for $1.25 million.

"We had discussions of a settlement throughout trial," said Grey's attorney, Mike Trentalange. "We were finally able to do that with the imminent return of the jury."

PHS had no comment on why it chose to settle the case, said company spokeswoman Susan Morganstern. If previous litigation detailed in past issues of PLN is any indication, the settlement was made in accord with the business model of prison privatization: pay settlements, which are usually confidential, and avoid judicial findings of negligence and liability.

Poor medical service by PHS cost the company its contract with HCJ; Armor Correction Medical Services took over health care for HCJ prisoners in October 2005. PHS also lost its contract with the Metro Jail in Nashville in August 2005 following the death of prisoner Ricky Douglas due to diabetic complications.

If the private prison industry's business model holds, PHS will simply win another contract vacated by a contractor that lost it due to poor performance. The prisoners who suffer from inadequate medical treatment do not, of course, have the ability to pick and choose who provides for their health care needs.

See: Lister, et al. v. Prison Health Services, USDC MD FL, Case No. 8:04-cv-02663-RAL-TGW.

Sources: Tampa Tribune, The Tennessean

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Related legal case

Lister, et al. v. Prison Health Services