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$290,000 Settlement for Federal Prisoner in Medical Negligence, Loss of Hearing Claim

On December 17, 1999, the United States agreed to pay $290,000 to a federal prisoner who permanently lost his hearing after he received inadequate medical care during his incarceration at two federal prisons in Florida. PLN is reporting this case now after a longstanding Freedom of Information Act request for these records was just recently fulfilled by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).

Walter Hernandez, Jr. was in the custody of the BOP starting in July of 1995. He was first incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution in Miami (FCI-Miami). Prior to being in BOP custody, Hernandez had a prior medical history of a repaired cleft palate and ear canal reconstruction. Within two weeks of a his arrival at FCI-Miami, Hernandez went to the infirmary with complaints of ear pain. Over the next 10 months, he was seen 14 times for ear infections, which were not affected by medications.

In January of 1996, an ENT consult was ordered, and Hernandez was transferred to FCI-Marianna where he could be seen at a clinic there. However, Hernandez was not seen by an ENT specialist until June 1996. At that time the doctor found several infections in both ears, along with hearing loss of at least 50% in the right ear and worse in the left ear. Revision mastoid surgery was recommended, along with hearing aids.

BOP did not follow those recommendations, and Hernandez was hospitalized nearly a year later for emergency surgery on both ears. Three surgeries later, Hernandez was left with permanent hearing loss in both ears.

Hernandez later filed suit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida seeking, among other things, $5 million in damages for the medical negligence of BOP medical personnel. According to the complaint, BOP provided medical care that "fell below accepted standards of care" by failing to recognize that Hernandez had an ear infection requiring immediate attention, failing to provide competent medical staff, and failing to timely provide timely consultation, diagnoses, and acute care for Hernandez's serious medical needs.

The lawsuit was filed in July 1998 by Hernandez's attorney, Janice Gallagher of Miami. Just less than 18 months later, the parties entered into a settlement agreement which provided for a $290,000 payment to Hernandez, who is responsible for his own costs and attorney's fees. See: Hernandez v. United States of America, No. 9801822-CIV-GOLD (U.S.D.C. S.D. FL).

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Related legal case

Hernandez v. United States of America