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$5,000 Settlement to California Prisoner Denied Hepatitis C Treatment

by Lonnie Burton

On May 5, 2015, the state of California and plaintiff/prisoner William T. Coats agreed to settle Coats' medical negligence lawsuit for $5,000. Coats had sued several medical personnel at the Deuel Vocational Institute - Tracy Reception Center (DVI) and the High Desert State Prison (HDSP) alleging his needed medical treatment for hepatitis C was being denied.

According to the 42 U.S.C. Sect. 1983 complaint, Coats arrived at DVI on December 22, 2007, and immediately informed medical staff that he had hepatitis C. About five months after Coats' arrival, a doctor prescribed Interferon treatment, but DVI Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Michael Fox "vetoed the treatment." Two subsequent treatment recommendations from two other doctors were also rejected by Doctor Fox.

A year after arriving at DVI and receiving no treatment, Coats requested and was granted an emergency transfer to HDSP specifically for the purpose of "immediate medical treatment."

Coats arrived at HDSP on January 27, 2009, but as of the date he filed his suit on May 1, 2009, no treatment had been provided for Coats' hepatitis. Coats filed three medical appeals at HDSP requesting that treatment begin, but in the end all that he achieved was a recommendation that he be re-screened and re-diagnosed, essentially "starting the process all over again," the lawsuit stated.

In addition to Dr. Fox, Coats' suit named Warden Moore of DVI and Warden McDonald of HDSP as defendants, as well as three HDSP medical personnel: Chief Medical Officer Dorothy Swingle, Chief Surgeon Dr. Nepomacero, and Physician's Assistant Miranda. Coats asserted that the continuing denial of treatment is "causing unknown damage to my person."

The case, filed May 11, 2008 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California, was finally settled on May 5, 2015. According to the text of the settlement agreement, Coats will only receive the $5,000 monetary award (minus costs and attorney's fees); no provisions were made regarding the treatment of his hepatitis C condition.

Patrick H. Dwyer eventually represented Coats in this case, even though the lawsuit was initially filed pro se. See: Coats v. Fox, 09-cv-1300-CMK-P (U.S.D.C. ED CA).

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Related legal case

Coats v. Fox