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Tennessee Jail Breached Duty to Provide Medical Care; Damages Trial Ordered

Tennessee Jail Breached Duty to Provide Medical Care; Damages Trial Ordered

by David Reutter

he Tennessee Court of Appeals has held the Tipton County Jail (TCJ) breached its duty of care by failing to provide a pre-trial detainee with proper medical treatment. The ruling reversed a trial court’s judgment following a bench trial.

Marcus K. Payne was booked into TCJ on March 1, 2004. He did not receive a physical examination within 14 days as required by both TCJ policy and the rules of the Tennessee Corrections Institute, because TCJ was operating under an unwritten policy that did not require an intake examination if one had been conducted within the past year.

Payne had previously been booked into TCJ in July 2003. At a physical exam performed at that time, the jail’s doctor recorded blood pressure readings of 184/122 and 168/118. He noted “HTN” (hypertension) and recommended lifestyle changes.

On April 22, 2004, Payne began complaining of headaches and was given ibuprofen. The headaches continued, and Sgt. Brenda Marbry filled out a request for him to be seen by the jail physician. She later testified that Payne was never actually examined by a doctor, but the doctor prescribed medication for his headaches on April 26.

Three days later Payne complained about dizziness and loss of vision, and was placed in an observation cell. A guard took his blood pressure on April 30, and the 169/91 reading resulted in authorization to transport him to a local hospital.

Once there, Payne began having seizures and was flown by helicopter to a Memphis medical center. He was diagnosed as suffering from renal failure, a stroke, heart attack, brain hemorrhage, anemia, seizures and other conditions, and “actually suffered from literally every known manifestation of target organ damage.” He was hospitalized for 45 days.

At trial, Dr. Richard Sobel, a board certified physician with considerable experience in correctional medical care, testified as Payne’s expert witness. The defendants presented no opposing expert, which resulted in the appellate court accepting Dr. Sobel’s undisputed testimony.

On appeal, TCJ did not dispute that Payne had suffered a severe hypertensive crisis and incurred injuries as a result. Instead, jail officials asserted they did not breach a duty of care. The appellate court noted that Tennessee law, T.C.A. § 41-2-109, requires prison and jail officials to ensure that sick prisoners “have proper medicine and medical treatment.”

The Court of Appeals found that Payne was never examined by a doctor, nor was his blood pressure taken when he was held at TCJ in 2004 except immediately prior to the hospital transport. The intake examination was a duty required by TCJ and state procedures. Further, a blood pressure check is proper medical protocol, particularly when a patient complains about headaches accompanied by vision problems, which, according to Dr. Sobel, is a clear sign of hypertension.

As such, the appellate court found TCJ had breached its duty to provide proper medical treatment to Payne. The case was remanded for determination of damages, and costs were taxed to the defendants. Payne died while the case was on appeal and his father was substituted as the plaintiff on behalf of Payne’s minor children. See: Payne v. Tipton County, Tennessee, 2014 Tenn. App. LEXIS 183 (Tenn.Ct.App. March 31, 2014), appeal denied.


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Related legal case

Payne v. Tipton County