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$250,000 Settlement for Family of Federal Prisoner Who Suffered Fatal Heart Attack After Being Refused Medical Attention

On December 2, 2002, the U.S. Department of Justice entered into a settlement agreement with the family of a former federal prisoner who died of a heart attack after he was refused medical treatment at the prison infirmary. The parties agreed to settle the case for $250,000, but it was unclear from the documents provided if that amount included costs and attorney's fees. Documents relating to this case were provided to PLN after a longstanding Freedom of Information Act request was recently fulfilled by the federal government.

On October 23, 2000, Ronney Ruff was a prisoner at the Atlanta United States Penitentiary (AUSP) when he reported to the AUSP infirmary with complaints of chest pain, shortness of breath, slow heartbeat, acute sweating, and vomiting.

After Mr. Ruff was examined by AUSP medical staff, and despite the fact that Ruff presented with "classic indications of a coronary crisis" -- according to the complaint -- he was sent back to his unit without medical care or attention. The complaint states that AUSP medical personnel failed to "recognize the clear import" of Ruff's symptoms, failed to obtain proper follow-up testing, and failed to give Ruff an electrocardiogram.

That night Ruff suffered throughout the night "until he finally succumbed to a massive" heart attack, the lawsuit reads, which was caused by an occlusion of Ruff's right coronary artery. Ruff passed away that night.

A lawsuit was filed by Ruff's heirs in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The complaint alleged that AUSP medical staff "failed to comply with the standard of care and skill exercised generally by physicians and/or other trained medical care personnel," and that negligence caused Ruff's death. The suit sought $30,000 for Ruff's pain and suffering and his funeral and burial expenses, as well as an unspecified amount for punitive damages "to deter such actions as described herein in the future."

The case settled just 10 months after it was filed, with the government agreeing to pay Ruff's estate $250,000. No other terms of the settlement were made available. Ruff's family was represented in the case by attorney Michael A. Cole of Atlanta. See: Federick, et al., v. United States of America, et al., Case No. 1:02-CV-406 (U.S.D.C. N.D. GA).

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Related legal case

Federick, et al., v. United States of America, et al.