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Dallas County Jail Settles Three Medical-Related Suits for $795,000

In April 2009, a federal jury in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas awarded $355,000 to Robert Duvall for injuries he suffered when he was denied medical treatment at the Dallas County Jail. Less than three months later, Dallas County settled two similar lawsuits for a total of $440,000.

Duvall was incarcerated at the jail on December 11, 2003. For a full week after his arrival he was bedridden with a high fever, sweats, nausea and swelling in his feet and legs. Although he repeatedly sought medical attention, he was never treated or even seen by the jail’s medical staff.
By the time Duvall was released on December 26, 2003 he was still experiencing a high fever, uncontrolled vomiting and blindness in one eye. He had completely lost the use of one of his legs, and both his feet and legs were grossly swollen.

Duvall immediately admitted himself to the Medical City Dallas Hospital emergency room, where he was diag-nosed with pneumonia, treated and released. When his condition did not improve by the next day he made his way to the Parkland Hospital emergency room, where he waited for 12 hours without being seen.

In desperation, Duvall went to Lake Pointe Medical Center. There he was diagnosed with Methicillin Resistant Staphy-lococcus Aureus (MRSA) and immediately placed in isolation. Duvall spent the next 30 days in the hospital’s “clean room.” Doctors removed a gallon of fluid from his right leg and two-and-a-half quarts from his left leg. He suffered a total loss of vision as a result of the MRSA infection.

Duvall filed an out-of-time grievance against the Dallas County Jail. Then, on May 24, 2007, he filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights claim in federal court alleging his constitutional rights had been violated under the 4th, 8th and 14th Amendments. Duvall accused the jail of perpetuating “policies, procedures, practices and customs, as well as the acts and omissions” which deprived him of proper treatment during the two weeks he was incarcerated. He also presented proof that the Dallas County Jail had for years been the subject of documented deficiencies in the area of medical care. [See, e.g.: PLN, Feb. 2009, p.28; Nov. 2007, p.14].

Duvall informed the court that on October 29, 2002, Dallas County had hired the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) to provide health care services for prisoners. Yet by the end of 2003, UTMB still had not implemented an infection control program, and the “management of Methicillin-resistant Staph aureus was virtually inadequate or non-existent and the hygiene in the jail was abysmal.” He also alleged that medical staff at the jail deliberately ignored “signs of medical distress and infectious disease ... and failed to provide appropriate medical care for [] prisoners.”

On April 16, 2009, following a three-day trial, a federal jury rendered a verdict in Duvall’s favor. The U.S. District Court issued judgment against the defendants on April 21, noting that both parties had “stipulated that ‘no legitimate govern-mental purpose was served by the allowance of the [MRSA] infection to be present in the Dallas County Jail ....’” The court awarded Duvall “$40,000 for physical pain and suffering in the past; $30,000 for mental anguish and emotional pain and suffering sustained in the past; $75,000 for physical impairment
sustained in the past; $75,000 for physical impair-ment that, in reasonable probability, will be sustained in the future; $10,000 for medical care and rehabilitation services sustained in the past; $20,000 for loss of capacity for enjoyment of life sustained in the past; and $15,000 for loss of ca-pacity for enjoyment of life that, in reasonable probability, will be sustained in the future, for a total award of $355,000.”

Duvall was represented by Dallas attorney Edward H. Moore, Jr. The county has since appealed the judgment to the Fifth Circuit. See: Duvall v. Dallas County, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Tex.), Case No. 3:07-cv-00929-L.

In June 2009, Dallas County Commissioners agreed to settle two separate lawsuits for a total of $440,000. The first suit, filed on behalf of Rosie Sims, settled for $250,000. Sims, 60, suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. She spent a year and a half at the jail waiting to go to trial and, according to the complaint filed by her family, did not receive “even a routine medical exam” during that time. On one occasion guards discovered her collapsed on the floor lying in her own feces, yet did nothing to help. She eventually died at the jail of untreated pneumonia in 2005.

“No amount of money can replace Mrs. Sims in the hearts of her family,” said Scott Medlock, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, who litigated the case against Dallas County. See: Lee v. Valdez, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Texas), Case No. 3:07-cv-01298-D.

In the second lawsuit, Bruce A. McDonald received $190,000 to compensate for the loss of sight in one eye after he was assaulted by another prisoner at the jail in 2005. McDonald was told by doctors that he needed surgery for the eye injury, yet for seven weeks jail personnel denied him medical treatment. See: McDonald v. Dallas County, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Texas), Case No. 3:06-cv-00771-L.

Additional source: Dallas Morning News

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Related legal cases

Duvall v. Dallas County

Lee v. Valdez

McDonald v. Dallas County