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NY State Prisoner Settles Case Over DOC’s Denial of Hepatitis C Treatment

by Derek Gilna

Adam Corris, incarcerated at the Gouverneur Correctional Facility in New York, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in 2015 claiming that he had been diagnosed with hepatitis C but prison staff wrongfully refused to treat him. In May 2016, New York corrections officials agreed to change their policy to treat Corris, as well as pay his legal fees and a modest monetary settlement.

New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) policy stated that prison health officials need not treat prisoners with hepatitis C if there is evidence they had used drugs or alcohol in the past six months. Prior to filing suit, Corris’ attorneys had repeatedly contacted staff at Gouverneur seeking treatment for their client, to no avail.

Corris alleged in his complaint that due to the lack of treatment he experienced “physical symptoms which include profuse sweating, body pains and aches, lethargy, trouble sleeping, fatigue, weakness, lack of appetite, changes in body temperature, throat pains and aches, headaches, diarrhea, shaking, dizziness, black outs, and a fear of requiring a liver transplant, a fear of liver cancer, and a fear of death.” Additionally, the suit stated that “current standards from the American Association for the Study of Liver Disease (AASLD), upon which the Hepatitis C Policy allegedly is based, explicitly supports treating active drug users.”

Corris put even more pressure on DOCCS officials by filing a petition for a preliminary injunction, which alleged that “[u]ntreated Hepatitis C can lead to severe internal organ damage or failure, including chronic liver disease, cirrhosis, liver cancer, and death. Hilton v. Wright, 928 F.Supp.2d 530, 538 (N.D. NY 2013) ... [and] DOCCS’ own policy states that Hepatitis C is the most common cause of end stage liver disease and hepatocellular cancer, and is responsible for up to 13,000 deaths per year.”

The settlement provided, in addition to the requested hepatitis C treatment, that the defendants would pay $19,144.82 “in full settlement of all claims,” of which $5,000 was to be placed in Corris’ prison commissary account.

Prison medical staff have generally been reluctant to provide treatment for hepatitis C due to the cost – particularly for the latest generation of hep C drugs, which have cure rates of over 90% at a cost of around $80,000. Thus, lawsuits are often required to ensure prisoners receive treatment; class-action suits over the provision of hep C drugs are pending in at least four states. PLN has previously covered the new hepatitis C drugs and the difficulties that prisoners often experience in receiving them. [See: PLN, Aug. 2015, p.22; July 2014, p.20].

Corris was represented by Alissa R. Hull with Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York – who previously served as a staff attorney for the Human Rights Defense Center, PLN’s parent organization. See: Corris v. Koenigsmann, U.S.D.C. (N.D. NY), Case No. 9:15-cv-01205-GTS-TWD.

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