Minnesota County Jail Pays $1 Million in Medical Neglect Case
by Lonnie Burton
In a settlement that is believed to be the largest of its kind for a medical neglect claim in the state of Minnesota, Hennepin County agreed to pay $1 million to a mentally ill prisoner who stabbed himself in both eyes after being held in jail for 40 days without proper psychiatric care.
Michael Schuler was arrested in 2012 for missing a court date and booked into the Hennepin County jail. Schuler, who had a lengthy history of mental illness that was known to county authorities as far back as 2009, was denied his antipsychotic medications by jail medical personnel.
Jail records indicated that Schuler had a history of numerous drug overdoses, self-inflicted stab wounds and chronic suicidal ideations. He was previously hospitalized eight times in Hennepin County.
In addition to denying Schuler his antipsychotic medications, jail staff meticulously chronicled his steady mental deterioration and the minimal treatment he received.
Prior to his arrest for missing a court date, Schuler was hospitalized at the Hennepin County Medical Center’s psychiatric unit. Doctors recommended that he remain at the Medical Center because he was a danger to himself and others; however, administrators overruled the doctors and Schuler was discharged. As he was leaving the hospital, he was arrested for the missed court date and taken to jail. Records indicated the only reason Schuler had missed the court date was because he was hospitalized at the time.
After 40 days in the county jail with no medication or treatment, Schuler used a pencil to stab himself in both eyes. [See: PLN, Nov. 2013, p.28]. He is now blind in his right eye and has severely impaired sight in the left. Jail records showed that Schuler complained of mounting anxiety and repeatedly asked for his medications, which were withheld at one point due to his “behavioral issues.”
By the time Schuler was released from the hospital following treatment for his eyes, his medical bills totaled over $400,000.
Hennepin County Sheriff Richard Stanek, who in 2013 played a lead role in successfully lobbying the Minnesota legislature for a law that requires mentally ill prisoners to be placed in a state mental health facility within 48 hours after being committed by a judge, declined to comment on the case.
Schuler was represented by attorneys Robert Bennett and Andrew Noel of Minneapolis, and William Lubov of Golden Valley, Minnesota. See: Schuler v. Otterblad, U.S.D.C. (D. Minn.), Case No. 0:13-cv-01151-SRN-TNL.
According to a news report published by the Star Tribune, on a typical day the Hennepin County jail holds between 100 to 200 prisoners with serious psychiatric disorders – often one-quarter of the facility’s total population. The new law aims to reduce that number, but beds at the hospital’s psychiatric unit are in short supply.
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Related legal case
Schuler v. Otterblad
|U.S.D.C. (D. Minn.), Case No. 0:13-cv-01151-SRN-TNL