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Washington DOC Settles MRSA Death Claim for $125,000

The Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) has agreed to pay $125,000 to the family of a prisoner who died from pneumonia caused by Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

On March 27, 2008, Jeremy Swaser was given a check-up by medical staff at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. He had been sick for a week, coughing, wheezing and unable to eat. Medical staff thought he had a virus and prescribed an inhaler and other medications, but not antibiotics.

Swaser was seen at the medical unit again the following day. He told Shirlee Weisner, a nurse practitioner at the prison, that he “never felt so bad,” that he had “a lot of nightmares” the night before, and was “disoriented.”

Later that day, Swaser was placed on Seriously Ill Notification Status after his diagnosis was changed to pneumonia. He was supposed to begin receiving antibiotics and be transferred to the ICU at Kadlec Medical Center, but neither happened.

In fact, it was not until March 30, 2008 that Swaser was sent to a hospital. At that point he was near death. After con-ducting extensive tests, doctors determined the true cause of Swaser’s illness was MRSA-induced pneumonia. Aggressive treatment was pursued over the next several days but it was not enough. Prison medical staff had waited too long to give him antibiotics, and he died on April 1, 2008.

According to Dr. Lisa Freeman-Grossheim, an expert retained by Swaser’s family in anticipation of litigation, Nurse Weisner breached the standard of care that she owed Swaser.
“The use of early, broad spectrum antibiotic administration could have prevented [Swaser’s] subsequent deterioration and death from MRSA pneumonia,” Dr. Freeman-Grossheim concluded in a report.

After Swaser’s family threatened to file suit over the prison medical staff’s apparent negligence and deliberate indifference, the DOC agreed to pay $125,000 to settle the matter. The settlement was finalized in January 2010.

The Swasers were represented by Daniel DeLue of Ferring & DeLue, a Seattle law firm. See: In re: Claim of Jeremy Swaser, Washington State Risk Management Division, Claim No. 31072413.

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