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$2.75 Million Settlement in New York Prisoner’s Loss of Sight Claim

The New York State Department of Correctional Services has agreed to pay $2.75 million to a prisoner who lost her eyesight due to deficient medical care by prison doctors.

The July 2007 settlement came in the civil rights action filed by prisoner Virginia Davis, who was born with hydrocephaly, which required having a shunt surgically implanted into her cranium as an infant to drain excess cerebrospinal fluid to prevent fluid build-up that could cause permanent damage.

While at Albion Correctional Facility in December 1999, Davis began complaining of persistent painful headaches. Prison doctors concluded she was suffering migraine headaches and they consisted in that diagnosis despite the fact that anti-migraine headache medication was having no effect.

In October 2000, Davis began experiencing nausea and dizziness with the headaches. By December, she was complaining of blurred vision. Headaches and blurred vision are symptoms of shunt failure or malfunction in persons with hydrocephaly. Despite repeatedly telling prison doctors of her condition and requesting they check for shunt failure, it was not until a year after the initial onset of symptoms that prison doctors asked for an examination by a neurologist.

Rather than request an emergency consultation on December 15, a normal consult was requested, which did not occur until January 8, 2001. The neurologist requested an examination by an ophthalmologist. That exam occurred on January 18, resulting in a diagnosis of papilledema (swelling of an optic disc), which is symptomatic of increased intercranial pressure and shunt failure.

That diagnosis resulted in Davis being admitted to Strung Memorial Hospital, where she was examined by several doctors. The most effective way to diagnose shunt failure of malfunction is to do a series of x-rays called a “shunt series.” To check the level of cerebrospinal fluid in an individual with hydrocephaly is to do a spinal tap.

Without taking any of these steps, Davis was released from the hospital on January 20. Between then and April 19, Davis continued to request attention to address her decreased visual acuity and headaches. During that period, prison doctors took no action and minimized Davis’s symptoms, questioning their legitimacy.

Finally, on April 19, Davis was diagnosed at Strung Memorial with shunt failure. The next day, she received surgery to replace the shunt. By then, Davis was legally blind, only able to see shadows. Her complaint alleged federal and state law claims. As stated above, the state settled the matter for $2.75 million. Davis was represented by attorney Alexander A. Reinert. See: Davis v. Cole-Hoover, USDC, W.D.N.Y., Case No: 03 Civ. 550.

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Related legal case

Davis v. Cole-Hoover