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Confidential Settlement by Corizon in Arizona Prisoner’s Death from Untreated Flu

For-profit prison and jail medical contractor Corizon Health agreed to an undisclosed settlement after an Arizona prisoner died from the flu that went untreated for six days.

Manuel Diaz, 31, entered the Arizona Department of Corrections in October 2013 to serve a five-year sentence. At the time he was sent to ASPC-Douglas, it was known that he had tested positive for hepatitis C. Yet despite having a weakened immune system he did not receive a flu shot prior to the 2013-2014 flu season.

Diaz began feeling ill on January 10, 2014. He reported to the infirmary the next day with tingling hands and feet, general body aches, shortness of breath, a fever of over 103 degrees and nausea. Corizon nurse Carla Transue noted he had not received a flu shot and told him to take ibuprofen and drink lots of water.

Over the next three days, Diaz reported to the infirmary in a worsening condition. Nurses Naomi Fimbres, Anna Marie Jensen-Trees and Tansue “did nothing to address the virus ravaging his body.” Rather than provide medical care or test him for the flu, Jensen-Trees gave Diaz an inhaler to help with his breathing.

By January 15, 2014, Diaz “was barely able to breath and extremely sick.” He was sent to the emergency room at Southeast Arizona Medical Center (SEAMC) after his fever spiked and he began coughing blood. X-rays at SEAMC showed pneumonia in Diaz’s left lung; however, the hospital did not treat him for the flu, and returned him to the prison with prescriptions for Albuterol, Robitussin and Zithromax.

By that evening, Diaz was reported by a guard to have “bloody stool.” His oxygen levels were extremely low. Transue and nurse Stephen Stephens noted he required “Urgent Intervention,” but gave him no additional medical care and told him to return to the infirmary in the morning.

By 7:35 a.m. on January 16, Diaz was so ill he had to use a wheelchair to report to the infirmary. Corizon nurses Jensen-Trees and Debra Kinder finally decided to act, ordering oxygen and a saline IV to stabilize Diaz for transport to SEAMC, where he received Tamiflu shortly after his arrival.

Diaz’s condition was so severe that he was immediately air-lifted to a Phoenix hospital. There, he tested positive for influenza and was found to have suffered severe lung and kidney damage. Complications from the flu were too great for Diaz to overcome, and he died on January 24, 2014.

His estate, which included his mother, wife and two minor children, filed suit in federal court against Corizon, numerous Corizon nurses, SEAMC staff members and the hospital’s principal owner, Community Healthcare of Douglas.

Diaz’s estate accepted a $6.5 million settlement from Community Healthcare in May 2016, and Corizon agreed to a confidential settlement in August 2017. A revised settlement with the company was reached last November and the case was dismissed the following month. Attorneys C. Lincoln Combs and Kevin D. Neal with the Phoenix law firm of Gallagher & Kennedy PA represented Diaz’s estate. See: Diaz v. Corizon Health, U.S.D.C. (D. Ariz.), Case No. 2:15-cv-01222-DLR.

Prisoners who do not receive vaccinations are at increased risk of contacting the flu due to crowded conditions of confinement, which sometimes – as in this case – results in preventable deaths. [See: PLN, June 2018, p.36]. 

Additional source: Douglas Dispatch


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Related legal case

Diaz v. Corizon Health