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New York Appellate Court Reverses Dismissal of Rikers Island Wrongful Death Suit

New York’s Appellate Division, First Department, has reversed a Bronx County supreme court’s dismissal of a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaint that also raised claims of negligence and medical malpractice.

The suit was filed by the estate of Eva Luckey, 46, who died at a Rikers Island jail facility in April 2002. Luckey had been treated for chronic asthma during the two weeks prior to her death. While the trial court allowed medical malpractice claims to proceed based on failure to prescribe medication, it dismissed the civil rights and negligence claims in a December 2012 order.

That dismissal, the appellate court stated, was error as it pertained to defendant Connie Rashid, who had a default judgment entered against her. As to most of the other § 1983 claims, the court found there were triable issues.

The City of New York could be found negligent for a breach of duty “to protect decedent from reasonably foreseeable harm in providing emergency medical assistance once she complained of difficulty breathing and otherwise exhibited signs of an asthma attack,” the appellate court wrote. “Dozens of eyewitnesses provided conflicting accounts regarding, among other things, the timing of the officers’ calls for medical assistance, and whether resuscitative efforts undertaken before medical personnel arrived were performed by the officers or whether other inmates took such measures in the face of inaction by the officers.”

New York City Department of Corrections (DOC) rules require guards to respond immediately in a medical emergency and to render CPR if they are certified to do so. Should a jury determine that certified guards failed to render such aid to Luckey, the city could be found negligent.

“This woman was having a major asthma attack and they basically stood around and let her die,” said attorney Richard Gross, who represents Luckey’s family.

The appellate court also rejected the dismissal of § 1983 claims against defendant Myrtle Powell, holding there were triable issues of fact about whether her conduct constituted “deliberate indifference” to Luckey’s serious medical needs. Further, the court found Powell had failed to establish her entitlement to qualified immunity.

The Appellate Division upheld the dismissal of a § 1983 claim against the DOC investigator who had investigated Luckey’s death and the dismissal of a failure-to-train claim against the city.

Accordingly, the trial court’s order of dismissal was affirmed in part and reversed in part on August 7, 2014. At the time of her death, Luckey was being held at Rikers on a petit larceny charge because she was unable to pay a $500 cash bond. See: Luckey v. City of New York, 991 N.Y.S.2d 34, 120 A.D.3d 403 (N.Y. App. Div. 1st Dep’t 2014).


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Related legal case

Luckey v. City of New York