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$1.2 Million Awarded Against PHS After Florida Jail Prisoner Paralyzed

A federal jury in Florida has awarded $1.2 million to a former prisoner who was paralyzed due to deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs while he was incarcerated at the Lee County Jail. The jury found that the jail’s for-profit medical provider, Prison Health Services (PHS), was solely liable.

Before being jailed on misdemeanor domestic violence charges on July 6, 2007, Brett Allen Fields, Jr., 24, was a healthy construction worker. Two weeks later he developed a boil on his arm and was treated for infection with antibiotics, which did not work. He complained to jail staff but was ignored.

After his daily routine of stretching and cracking his back, Fields began to suffer numbness and weakness in his legs, inability to urinate and difficulty walking. Beginning on the night of August 7, 2007, Fields began begging for help. From then until August 9 he hit the emergency button in his cell “probably 100 times.”

Fields was initially seen by physician’s assistant Joseph A. Richards, Jr. and nurse Bettie Joyce Allen. During that examination Fields was in a wheelchair; he complained of numbness and weakness in his legs, and said he could not walk. Richards gave him Tylenol and set an appointment to see him a week later.

“Could anything have been easier than Tylenol, less effective than Tylenol?” asked attorney Greg Lauer, who along with Dion Cassata represented Fields in his subsequent lawsuit against PHS, Richards and Allen. “He’s crawling at this point. He can’t walk.... He hasn’t used the restroom in a while ... and he’s completely numb.”

Back in his cell, Fields continued to ask for help. He told Allen that his insides had fallen out of his anus, called a rectal prolapse. She diagnosed hemorrhoids and pushed the rectal tissue back inside. In the early morning hours of August 9, 2007, Fields screamed for help – “please help me, please.”

“What do they do?” Lauer asked during the trial. “They drag him on a sheet to an observation room. There’s no observation. No one looked at him.”

When he was finally seen by the jail’s doctor at 10:30 a.m. on August 9 it was recommended that Fields be taken to a hospital, but it was another two hours before that happened. By then it was too late for a surgeon to reverse the damage from a spinal epidural abscess.

Fields spent the next eight months in a wheelchair, a year with a walker and now walks with a spastic gait. He can not feel the ground and requires braces for his ankles. To urinate he has to sit so he doesn’t lose control of other bodily functions, and he suffers sexual dysfunction and excruciating pain.

The jury’s March 17, 2011 verdict did not find Richards and Allen liable for Fields’ injuries, despite the fact that Allen said “I doubt everything an inmate tells me” and her reference to prisoners’ medical complaints as “foolishness.” Allen’s testimony, however, was used to establish that PHS had a custom or policy of refusing to treat prisoners in order to save money.

“They are always fussing over us, yelling at nurses for sending inmates to the hospital,” Lauer said, reading Allen’s testimony. “This is Prison Health Services’ policy.... Its widespread practice. You heard nurse Allen say everybody knew it, everybody said it.”

As a result of PHS’s deliberate indifference to Fields’ medical needs, he was awarded $600,000 for past lost earnings and future and past medical expenses; $100,000 for physical pain and suffering, disability, physical impairment, disfigurement, mental anguish, inconvenience and loss of capacity to enjoy life; and $500,000 in punitive damages. A motion for attorney fees is pending. See: Fields v. Scott, U.S.D.C. (M.D. Fla.), Case No. 2:09-cv-00529-JES-DNF.

Sources: Naples News,

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Related legal case

Fields v. Scott