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Illinois Prisoner Receives $12 Million Jury Award in Medical Neglect Suit

Illinois Prisoner Receives $12 Million Jury Award in Medical Neglect Suit

by Matt Clarke

n January 18, 2013, an Illinois federal jury awarded a state prisoner $12 million against an Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) certified medical technician (CMT) who failed to provide anti-seizure medication, which caused the prisoner to have a seizure that resulted in severe and permanent brain damage.

Ray A. Fox was 45 years old and incarcerated at the Stateville Correctional Center’s Northern Reception and Classification Center in October 2007. Stateville is a DOC intake facility where prisoners are held temporarily until they are assigned to a specific DOC prison. At that time, Wexford Health Sources, Inc., a private company, was under contract to provide medical services at Stateville.

Fox suffered from epilepsy or a seizure disorder and took anti-seizure medication to control his condition. During the intake process, a doctor prescribed him 200 mg of phenytoin and 30 mg of phenobarbital to be taken daily. However, according to court records, Fox never received his medication despite repeated requests to guards and CMTs. As a result of the lack of medication he suffered a seizure about two weeks after his arrival at Stateville.

Following the seizure, Fox was discovered on the floor of his cell bleeding from the head and/or mouth, and suffering from severe head trauma, intercranial bleeding and aspiration pneumonia. These injuries resulted in permanent brain damage rendering him unable to walk, partially blind, disoriented regarding his surroundings and requiring constant supervision. He was left “mentally disabled and totally without understanding or capacity to make or communicate decisions about his person, estate or financial affairs.” Fox’s mother was appointed plenary guardian of his person and estate.

With the assistance of Chicago attorneys Arthur Loevy, Michael Kanovitz, Jon Loevy and Elizabeth Wang, Fox’s mother filed a civil rights suit in federal court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of her son’s rights under the Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Essentially, the lawsuit claimed that Wexford routinely delayed or denied prisoners proper medical care as a cost-saving measure.

The suit named as defendants guards and medical staff who allegedly ignored Fox’s pleas for medical attention and requests for his medication, including CMTs David Barnes and Michael R. Borkowski. It was specifically alleged that Barnes and Borkowski had ignored Fox’s requests for assistance in obtaining his medication at least two to three times per shift; that they failed to provide medical care when Fox told them he was suffering from headaches, diarrhea, trembling and the shakes; that they ignored clearly-visible signs of his serious illness; and that they failed to alert proper medical authorities regarding his condition and lack of medication. It was further alleged that the evening before the seizure, Barnes had examined Fox in his cell but ignored the fact that Fox had urinated on himself, vomited on his blanket, had a headache and had not received his Dilantin (phenytoin), and did not report Fox’s situation to medical officials.

At trial, the jury awarded Fox $11,000,000 in compensatory damages and $1,000,000 in punitive damages against Barnes while finding in Borkow­ski’s favor.

Barnes’ motion for a new trial was denied by the district court on May 15, 2013, and he appealed to the Seventh Circuit the following month. On August 15, 2013, the district court awarded $1,234,180 in attorney fees and $195,518.66 in costs to Fox. Barnes’ appeal remains pending. See: Fox v. Barnes, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ill.), Case No. 1:09-cv-05453.


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Related legal case

Fox v. Barnes