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$4.7 Million Settlement for Brain Damage Caused by Washington Jail Negligence

Washington State’s Kitsap County Jail paid $4.7 million to settle a lawsuit that alleged its failure to properly care for a developmentally disabled man left him brain damaged from dehydration.

William E. Trask, 44, was born developmentally disabled. Despite that, he was healthy and led an active life. He even maintained a job as a dishwasher part-time. On July 27, 2006, he hit his mother, who he lived with, after she told him he could not go to a bowling alley.

She called 911. “When I called police, I thought they might just talk to him, scare him, let him know that when I said something I meant not to do it,” said Trask’s mother, Marie Watson.

Instead, police arrested Trask, who has the mental capacity of a child, on a misdemeanor assault charge. When he began acting out at the jail, he was placed in a crisis cell. Once there, guards did nothing but watch him through video surveillance cameras.

What they witnessed through all hours of the day and night was Trask repeatedly hitting his body against the cell walls, taking off his clothes, rolling around naked on the cell floor, and attempting to cover the cell’s drain with his clothes. When he was given food or drink, he either threw it away or attempted to stuff the items down the drain of the cell.
As Trask’s health began to deteriorate, neither guards nor Kitsap Mental Health Services (KMHS) took action. In fact, in the face of his behavior, a KMHS official said he did not have a “treatable mental condition” on August 8, 2006.

On August 17, Trask was so ill and listless that he was taken by ambulance to a local hospital. Upon admission he was found to be dehydrated and had gangrene in the fingers of his left hand.

“He was sort of left to rot in his cell,” said Trask’s attorney, Tim Tesh. “By the time he was carried out of the Kitsap County Jail, he was dehydrated to the point that his kidneys were failing and ultimately that led to brain damage.”

Trask now resides in a nursing home. “I’m devastated. Very devastated,” said his mother. “Can’t feed himself, clothe himself, bathe himself. He can’t walk anywhere, which all he did before.”

On June 12, 2009, a state court approved a settlement that establishes a special needs trust for Trask. Out of the $4.7 million settlement, his attorneys receive $1,880,000, plus costs of $154,249.89. The settlement further pays $101,000 in liens from Medicade and Medicare. Trask was represented by Seattle attorneys Allen M. Ressler and Timothy R. Tesh. See: Watson v. Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office, Pierce County Superior Court, Case No: 08-2-05296-1.

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Related legal case

Watson v. Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office