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$99,999 Settlement for Michigan Prisoner Damaged by Second-Hand Smoke

A Michigan prisoner accepted $99,999 to settle a lawsuit for damages and injuries he suffered as a result of prison officials’ failure to follow medical prescriptions to house him in a non-smoking environment.

Prior to being housed at Carson City Temporary Facility (CTF), prisoner Wantwaz Davis had been in Michigan prisons since 1991 and had never been diagnosed or treated for asthma. After Davis was transferred to CTF and housed in D-unit, that changed.

Upon walking into D-unit, tobacco was the first thing Davis smelled, and it covered all other smells. The unit’s fans served as a circulator of smoke. Two days after that transfer, Davis had a medical call out.

At that April 10, 2006 callout, Davis told medical staff that the tobacco smoke in the unit was causing him to experience difficulty breathing and was making him dizzy. He was issued a Special Accommodation Notice that, under policy PD-04.06.160, medical staff was required to notify security of his medical needs, which they did.

Rather than promptly move Davis, he was advised to request placement in the CTF’s Tobacco-Free Housing Unit. That Unit was full, and Davis’ request was responded to with a statement that he was “2nd on non-white list.” The complaint charged that such racial profiling was illegal, that there was a disproportionate amount of white spaces in the Unit compared to the number of whites at the prison and that smokers were housed in the Unit.

Davis passed out due to the effects of second hand smoke (ETS) on the night of April 18, 2006. His symptoms of horrible chest pain and difficulties breathing resulted in his being rushed by ambulance to the local hospital, which diagnosed “severe asthma” from ETS.

Prison medical PA Howard Tyree explained it was medically determined that Davis had passed out due to ETS, which closed his lungs and prevented him from getting oxygen. He was given asthma inhaler medication.

Meanwhile, prison officials denied Davis’ grievance on the failure to be placed in Tobacco-free housing on April 21. Four days later, Davis went to medical. He advised that he was “regularly awakened (3 times nightly) with shortness of breath [and] cough[ing].” He was issued more medication and another Special Accommodation.

Once again, prison officials refused to move Davis because he was still number 2 on the list. On May 1, he went to medical for breathing complications caused by being “around too much cigarette smoke and it makes him feel like he can’t get enough air.” Prison officials still resisted moving him.

Davis was again taken to a hospital on May 4 for difficulties breathing. Upon return to CTF, he was placed in tobacco-free housing. The complaint charged that Davis suffered permanent injury and will have asthma for life, requiring medications.

The lawsuit was settled on June 17, 2009. Davis was represented by attorney Daniel E. Manville. See: Davis v. Bell, USDC, W. D. Michigan, Case No. 1:06-cv-690.

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Related legal case

Davis v. Bell,

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