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$130,000 Settlement in Minnesota Prisoner’s Medical Negligence Suit

$130,000 Settlement in Minnesota Prisoner’s Medical Negligence Suit

by Matt Clarke

In June 2014, the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) announced that it would pay $130,000 to settle a medical negligence lawsuit brought by a prisoner who suffered permanent nerve damage due to medical neglect.

Eric Thomas, 32, was incarcerated at Stillwater prison when he became partially paralyzed one evening. Nurse Ellie Fuller was called; she looked at him and left him propped up in his cell. Afterwards, she wrote “Faker” in her medical log. She did not call a doctor before leaving for the night.

The following morning, Thomas was found on his cell floor unable to communicate. He was transported to a hospital for emergency surgery, where they discovered a blood clot pressing against his spine that had nearly killed him. The nerve damage caused by the clot, called Brown-Sequard syndrome, made the right side of his body permanently numb.

After Thomas was sent to the hospital, nursing supervisor Sara Hard read the “Faker” note in his medical file. She ordered Nurse Cassie Rider to destroy the document. Rider refused and Hard destroyed it herself. However, Rider had secretly photocopied the document and its existence became known to Thomas and his attorney, Steve Meshbesher of Minneapolis. The DOC then decided to settle the case for $130,000. Subsequently, Fuller retired and Hard was demoted to senior nurse. See: Thomas v. MN DOC, Washington County District Court (MN), Case No. 82-cv-13-3992.

Meshbesher said he planned to file another lawsuit against Corizon, Inc., the medical services provider for over 9,000 Minnesota state prisoners at the time. He said a Corizon doctor on call that night was negligent by failing to order that Thomas be examined by a physician at a hospital.

The state declined to renew Corizon’s contract in the fall of 2013. Instead, it gave Centurion Managed Care of St. Louis a $67.5 million, two-year contract requiring about the same levels of medical staffing as the Corizon contract had. Under that contract, doctors throughout the DOC left work at 4:30 p.m. and the last of the nurses left at 11:30 p.m., leaving only guards with no health care training to make decisions about prisoners experiencing medical emergencies.

Thomas said he was moving on and hoped to be transferred to a minimum-security facility with a boot camp-type program that could reduce his sentence by three years. He enrolled in the Challenge Incarceration Program in November 2015, which includes substance abuse treatment, education, cognitive skills, physical training and transition preparation.

“There’s no reason for me to do anything else – I’m not looking back at that life I had,” he said. “It’s all good, and I’ve got a bigger plan.”

From 2011 to 2014, Minnesota settled multiple lawsuits by prisoners and their families alleging inadequate health care, totaling $827,000. Prisoners’ rights attorneys have said that the DOC’s policy of contracting with private companies to provide medical services has resulted in a system of rationed health care resulting in critical mistakes. In February 2014, Minnesota Legislative Auditor James Nobles released a report critical of the DOC’s health care system, stating it lacked oversight and outside accountability.

Additional sources: https://coms.doc.state.mn.us, www.startribune.com

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