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Jury Awards $6,500 to California Prisoner for Negligence, Deliberate Indifference by Doctor

On May 22, 2009, a California federal jury awarded a state prisoner $6,500 on his claims of medical negligence and deliberate indifference. Todd A. Ashker, a prisoner at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP), sued Dr. M.C. Sayre after Sayre discontinued Asker’s pain medication and treatment for his disabled right arm.

Ashker had complained of inadequate medical care for his arm for over seven years. In 2002, PBSP staff agreed to pay him $37,500 to settle a lawsuit concerning his medical care. In addition to the monetary compensation, the settlement required PBSP to provide Ashker with physical therapy, continued and appropriate use of an arm brace, referral for a pain management examination, and implementation of the pain management regimen recommended by the pain specialist.

PBSP staff never referred Ashker to see a pain management specialist; instead he was prescribed Tramadol, which controlled his pain. With the Tramadol, physical therapy and other care that he received, Ashker seemed satisfied. At least until 2005.

Starting in 2005, PBSP medical staff started giving Ashker the run-around, taking him on and off his pain medication. In 2006, Dr. Sayre stopped prescribing Tramadol entirely, instead substituting Ibuprofen and Tylenol, both of which Dr. Sayre knew caused Ashker severe stomach pain. Further, Sayre discontinued physical therapy for Ashker’s disabled arm, along with the use of different therapeutic devices, believing his arm would not benefit from further treatment.

A different doctor examined Ashker in 2007. According to Dr. Cory Weinstein, Ashker’s complaints of chronic pain were not surprising given the severe nature of his disability. Dr. Weinstein noted that Tramadol had been used “routinely and with excellent efficacy in the management of chronic pain,” and that the Ibuprofen prescribed by Dr. Sayre had caused Ashker stomach irritation, ulcers and severe discomfort. Finally, contrary to Dr. Sayre’s conclusion that Ashker’s arm would not benefit from further treatment, Dr. Weinstein recommended continued rehabilitative care.

Faced with these conflicting opinions and Dr. Sayre’s familiarity with Ashker’s medical condition, prior treatment regimen and the 2002 settlement, the jury concluded that Sayre had been both negligent and deliberately indifferent in his treatment of Ashker’s pain management and disability. The jury awarded $6,500 in compensatory damages; no punitive damages were awarded.

Judgment was not immediately entered following the trial, as the court still had to resolve Ashker’s request for injunctive relief concerning breach of the 2002 settlement agreement. Thus, Ashker’s post-trial motions for a new damages trial and for taxation of costs and recovery of expert fees were denied as being premature. Ashker litigated the case pro se. See: Ashker v. Sayre, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Cal.), Case No. 05-03759.

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Related legal case

Ashker v. Sayre

Please see the brief bank for documents related to this case.