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Correctional Medical Care Pays $425,000 Settlement in Prisoner’s Opiate Withdrawal Death

Correctional Medical Care (CMC) agreed to a $425,000 settlement in a lawsuit alleging the company’s practice of putting profit before patient care resulted in the opiate withdrawal death of a prisoner at New York’s Schenectady County Jail (SCJ).

Nicole Carmen, 39 and a mother of three, was a heroin addict who had been using up to six “bundles” of heroin a day upon her April 20, 2013 arrest for a parole violation. After being booked into SCJ, Carmen informed other prisoners that she was not feeling well because she was going through withdrawal, and spent most of the day lying in bed and refusing to eat because she felt nauseous. [See: PLN, Sept. 2016, p.54].

On the second day, Carmen deteriorated rapidly. She was “frequently vomiting and defecating on herself, her bedding, and on the floor.” Still, after two days she had not been medically assessed by jail staff.

Carmen was finally summoned to the infirmary on the third day. She appeared to walk in a sluggish manner and looked pale and sickly. The federal lawsuit filed by her estate claimed she received only a “cursory assessment” and was “sent back to her cell without any medication or treatment.”

While she was constantly monitored by guards, they simply watched her suffer in an obvious state of distress. Carmen was “observed as incoherent and exhibiting jerking motions on the left side of her body, indicative of seizure activity.” That afternoon, she was “covered in feces and vomit for several hours” before guards violated jail rules by allowing another prisoner to try to clean up Carmen and her cell.

A short time later, a CMC nurse responded to a guard’s call. After a cursory observation she declared Carmen was “faking it” in order to be sent to a hospital so she could obtain more drugs. The nurse then left without providing even “the basic steps” of an assessment.

“Less than 24 hours later, Nicole Carmen left the facility on a stretcher and in a coma, having suffered a stroke, aneurism, and a lung infection, all known side-effects of untreated opiate withdrawal,” the complaint stated. “Approximately five days later, Ms. Carmen was dead.”

Her estate reached the settlement, which was approved by the district court, on December 22, 2015. The court awarded attorneys Elmer R. Keach III and Maria K. Dyson $9,197.38 in costs and $138,462.77 in fees. Carmen’s estate received $277,340.35. See: Chase v. Correctional Medical Care, U.S.D.C. (N.D. NY), Case No. 1:14-cv-00474-DNH-TWD. 

Related legal case

Chase v. Correctional Medical Care


 

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