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$675,000 in Wrongful Death of Federal Prisoner

by Christopher Zoukis

The Estate of James F. Norton, formerly a prisoner at Federal Correctional Institution Oxford, Wisconsin, was awarded a total of $678,505.67 for the wrongful death of Norton due to negligence by prison medical staff between 1989 and 1991.

Norton had been serving a 10-year sentence for racketeering when he began experiencing chronic pain in his back. According to his lawsuit, filed in federal district court, Dr. James Reed and Dr. Gene P. Wegner, two treating physicians at FCI Oxford, repeatedly misdiagnosed his condition as being osteoarthritis, sclerosis, hypertrophy, possible pneumonia, kyphoscoliosis, sacrolileitis, levoscoliosis, cholelithiasis (gall stones), and hypochondria. The medical staff at FCI Oxford refused to excuse Norton from work, and prescribed him painkillers.

One of Norton's prison guard employers even told him that he would not be relieved of work responsibilities unless he "turned yellow."

But the problem wasn't Norton's gall stones, it was the aggressive and advanced cancer in his lung.

According to Norton, he was seen by a physician once during his time at FCI Oxford. While he was X-rayed and tested many times, no one detected the cancer. It wasn't until he was provided an emergency early release for medical care by a federal district court that the cancer was diagnosed by competent physicians – outside of the Bureau of Prisons.

Emergency surgery was performed, and a tumor the size of an orange was removed from Norton's lung.

Appropriate medical care allowed Norton to live for another three years. But the cancer that the Bureau of Prisons health services couldn't find ultimately killed him.

After a three-day bench trial on negligence and wrongful death claims, the honorable Ruben Castillo of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois found for Norton's estate. Judge Castillo found that the Bureau of Prisons physicians were negligent, that Norton suffered unnecessary pain for over a year, and that his life was cut short.

The Estate was awarded funeral expenses in the amount of $10,742.79, medical expenses in the amount of $117,752.90, wrongful death damages in the amount of $400,000.00, and surviving spouse damages in the amount of $150,000.00, for a total award of $678,505.67.

The Estate was represented at different stages of the legal process by Chicago, Illinois attorneys Patrick E. Mahoney of the firm Patrick Mahoney & Associates, P.C., Marina Ammendola of the firm Patricia C. Bobb & Associates, and David Mejia.

The documents from this case were obtained by Prison Legal News after prevailing in a twelve-year-long court battle with the Bureau of Prisons over a Freedom of Information Act records request.

See: Norton v. United States of America, United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Civil Case No. 94-C-1430.

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