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PHS Hit with $312,000 Verdict for Inadequate Care of Pennsylvania Prisoner

PHS Hit with $312,000 Verdict for Inadequate Care of Pennsylvania Prisoner

On February 17, 2012, a Pennsylvania state jury slapped Prison Health Services (PHS) with a $400,000 verdict for inadequate medical care of a prisoner at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Albion. The award was reduced to $312,000 because the jury found that prisoner Derrick Jones, also known as Derrick Alexander, was 22% responsible for his injuries.

Jones, 41, was hurt at SCI Albion on March 12, 2006 after he jumped off a bunk and landed on a boot. PHS failed to take an X-ray for five days, after which time it was discovered that Jones had broken his ankle. The ankle was set with surgical pins and placed in a cast, but Jones was ordered to return to his top-tier cell.

That required him to climb up and down metal stairs for meals and medical treatment. On March 19, 2006, Jones fell down 15 steps, injuring his neck, back and left knee. PHS did not provide him with an MRI to determine the extent of the injuries. Jones obtained an MRI after his release from prison in 2008, which confirmed that he had suffered herniated discs and torn knee ligaments.

PHS argued in court that it had provided appropriate care, and any lingering problems that Jones experienced were due to degeneration. “PHS similarly did not cause any of Mr. Jones’ claimed injuries or damages,” PHS attorney Kathryn Kenyon wrote in court pleadings.

Jones’ expert, a prison medical specialist, disagreed, finding that PHS’s care fell below acceptable standards. Anther expert predicted Jones would have “permanent limitations on future employment,” as in addition to his injuries he had dropped out of school in the 10th grade and only had job experience as a janitor and in construction and demolition.

Jones’ attorney, Stuart M. Niemtzow, said he was “quite pleased” with the verdict.
“Prison Health Services dropped the ball many times in caring for Derrick over a two-year period,” he said. The verdict will, sadly, be enjoyed by Jones from a jail cell, as several years after his release he was arrested on new charges.

Following the verdict, the trial court ordered a reduction of damages for future medical care to their present value under the state’s MCARE Act, after finding that PHS qualified as a health care provider under the Act. Niemtzow said he intends to appeal the court’s reduction of damages. See: Jones v. PHS, Court of Common Pleas for Erie County (PA), Case No. 15262-08.

PHS has since merged with Correctional Medical Services to become Corizon.

The same day that the jury entered the verdict against PHS in Jones’ case, the Huffington Post, an online news site, published an interview with retired SCI Albion guard Kevin Barwell, who criticized poor medical treatment at the facility. Barwell cited the January 1, 2012 death of prisoner Dennis Austin, 48, who suffered from cancer and died with severe bedsores that covered his body.

“It’s happened before. This is a pattern that’s been ongoing,” said Barwell, who added that Austin’s death was “a direct result of negligence. They’re not doing their job.”

Barwell, who had retired from the prison system in 2008, stated he was familiar with the medical unit at SCI Albion. “We had one inmate who was in the infirmary who was paralyzed from the waist down,” he said. “He had bedsores right down to the bone on his buttocks. I saw them, and I could actually smell the flesh. He needed [rolling] several times a day.”

Austin’s family, through their attorney, has called for an investigation into his death.

Sources: Erie Times-News, Huffington Post

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Related legal case

Jones v. PHS