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$61,500 Settlement in Death of a Federal Prisoner

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) agreed to a $61,500 settlement in a 28 U.S.C. §1331 civil suit filed by a federal prisoner, substituted by his family as plaintiffs after the alleged wrongful death of the prisoner. The initial complaint alleged that the prisoner had a clearly established right to diagnosis and adequate treatment of his serious medical needs, and the defendant’s deliberate indifference caused irreparable harm; it was later amended to include that the actions resulted in his wrongful death.

The suit was filed by BOP prisoner Robert F. Stewart and alleged that the defendants were aware of his serious medical problems. He suffered a heart attack within days of his imprisonment. X-rays showed serious cardiovascular problems. He made complaints of sharp spinal neck pains, development of a productive cough, loss of strength in his left arm, and CT scans’ results showed he had lung cancer. While the defendants knew that the associated pain could not be treated by non-narcotic medications, they only provided Motrin, Naproxen, and warm compresses for treatment. That treatment was inadequate to treat the cancer or the pain.

The prison did not have the ability to treat lung cancer. The defendants were aware of the need for emergency medical transfer and a policy requiring that they notify Stewart’s next of kin of the serious medical condition. They, however, did not file for an emergency transfer or notify Stewart’s family of the serious medical condition. When he tried to notify his family, after the defendants failed to do so, prison officials punished him for disobeying their order forbidding him to have communications with them. He was placed in confinement for 10-weeks and was unable to receive adequate medical care.

Stewart’s health significantly declined while confinement. His neck pain increased as the cancer caused his neck bones to disintegrate. He developed serious chest pains and suffered from panic attacks. He fell and apparently broke a rib, deteriorated to the point that he could not get out of bed, and the defendants forced him to urinate on himself because they refused to help k in any way. He coughed up blood and began to bleed form his nose and experienced rapid weight loss.

After about 2-weeeks in confinement, an air ambulance arrived at the federal prison to transfer prisoners with serious medical conditions, but Stewart was not taken because the defendants failed to complete the necessary paperwork. Prison policy provided that if staff filed for emergency medical transport, a prisoner would leave within hours. Despite Stewart’s life-threatening condition, the defendants refused to request emergency transport. When they finally filed for transport, they requested a routine transport, which takes weeks. Stewart was in confinement due to medical hardship.

When Stewart was finally transported to a hospital, he was immediately placed on a morphine drip because of his serious pain and suffering November 6, 1999. His family adopted his lawsuit and added a wrongful death claim. BOP agreed to the $61,500 on September 8, 2002. They were represented by Susan Szabo for the plaintiffs.

See: Stewart v. Adams, U.S.D.C. C.D. California, case no. cv-99-08188.

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Related legal case

Stewart v. Adams