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California Prisoner Settles Medical Indifference Claim for $8,500

by Mark Wilson

California prison officials have paid a prisoner $8,500 to settle his claims of deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs.

On or about January 4, 2001, California state prisoner Kelvin Carver Johnson was confined at CSP-Solano. While eating the evening meal, food got caught deep in his throat and he was unable to swallow or dislodge the food. As he ran out of air, Johnson tried to force the food down his throat.

He suddenly felt a sharp pain in his chest, as though something had ruptured. He could no longer swallow due to the pain. Every time he attempted to inhale, he felt as though he was swallowing fire.

Johnson immediately contacted Lt. Lawrence and Sgt. Parks. When Johnson told them what was wrong, Parks took him to the infirmary.

Donald Neal, a nurse, was not interested in Johnson’s medical problem. After performing a negative EKG, Neal told Johnson to drink a cup of Maalox, which increased his pain dramatically.

Johnson told Neal a second time that he had felt something rupture deep within his chest, and that he was in severe pain and had difficulty breathing.

Johnson repeatedly asked Neal to order X-rays to find out what was wrong. However, Neal refused to order X-rays or call the doctor. Instead, he sent Johnson back to his cell with instructions to return in the morning. Throughout the night, Johnson vomited blood and suffered severe pain, an abnormally high body temperature and difficulty breathing. It was impossible for him to sleep.

Johnson was not called back to the infirmary until about 10:00 a.m. the next morning. Medical staff conducted X-rays and quickly recognized that he was suffering an on-going emergent medical situation. He was immediately transported to a hospital.

Johnson filed a federal lawsuit against Neal and other prison staff, alleging they were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. On February 8, 2010, prison officials entered into a release and settlement with Johnson, agreeing that “it is in their collective best interests to resolve Mr. Johnson’s claims against Mr. Neal in good faith and to avoid incurring additional litigation fees and expenses….”

The defendants denied any wrongdoing but agreed to pay Johnson $8,500 to settle his claims. See: Johnson v. Director of Corrections, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Cal.), Case No. 2:05-cv-00298-JAM-JFM.

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Related legal case

Johnson v. Director of Corrections