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BOP Settles Medical Negligence Claim for $600,000

BOP Settles Medical Negligence Claim for $600,000

by David M. Reutter

The federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) paid $600,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging officials at USP Coleman Low caused a prisoner to suffer permanent injuries due to their negligent provision of medical care.

BOP prisoner Robert Lee Hernandez arrived at the Coleman prison in Florida on June 17, 2008 and was placed in the Special Housing Unit. He began experiencing extreme pain in his right leg in February 2009. Unable to walk, two guards carried him to the clinic.

His condition was misdiagnosed and for the next month he received several different pain medications that were ineffective and did nothing more than mask his underlying condition. On March 2, Hernandez experienced chest and abdomen pain so severe he thought he was having a heart attack.

He was seen by Dr. Davilla, who said there was nothing wrong and Hernandez was faking a medical emergency to receive relief for his leg pain. Nonetheless, he was taken to a hospital and diagnosed with urinary retention, a low potassium level, severe constipation and pneumonia. He was released from the hospital two days later.

An MRI taken on March 15 found arthritis of the spine, a degenerative disk and other degenerative changes. BOP medical records noted Hernandez’s right leg was tender with passive range of motion and decreased muscle tone, yet he was given only pain killers for what BOP staff believed was an old back injury. No treatment was provided for the pain in his right hip and right leg.

After six months of complaints, on August 12, 2009 an outside neurosurgeon recommended that a CT scan be performed. Dr. Davilla did not counter-sign approval for the recommendation until October 1. The scan revealed an abnormality on the right femoral head and neck, which an MRI confirmed was an infection of the bone.

Ultimately, Hernandez underwent a total right hip replacement and replacement of a large portion of his right femur, which could have been prevented with a proper initial diagnosis. Complications from the surgery ensued, resulting in Hernandez losing his gall bladder and suffering pancreatitis, a hernia, a pinched nerve and gout. His right leg atrophied while in recovery, becoming two to three inches shorter than his left leg. He also now requires the use of a colostomy bag.

With representation by attorneys from the Florida Justice Institute, the law firm of Alan Goldfarb and the Social Justice Law Collective, Hernandez sued the BOP under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The parties reached a $600,000 settlement following a bench trial. Hernandez, who had filed the original complaint pro se, has since been released from prison. See: Hernandez v. United States, U.S.D.C. (M.D. Fla.), Case No 5:11-cv-00370-MSS-PRL.


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Related legal case

Hernandez v. United States