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Prisoner Education Guide

Wrongful Death Case Against New York Jail Settles for $101,500

by Derek Gilna

Lucky Lee Wilkins, Jr., who suffered from depression, committed suicide while in the custody of the Schenectady County jail in New York on May 28, 2014. His family filed suit alleging civil rights violations, and the case settled in July 2017 for $101,500.

Wilkins, who was 29, had told his family and friends that he “unsuccessfully sought help from medical staff on multiple occasions, but was denied,” according to the complaint. “Other inmates also reported that [he] was severely depressed prior to his death, [and] had threatened to commit suicide on multiple occasions, and was being denied medical treatment.”

Gail Helijas, who was appointed administrator of Wilkins’ estate, alleged the jail and Ellis Hospital were “deliberately indifferent” to his serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. She also accused the jail’s medical provider, Correctional Medical Care (CMC), as well as Ellis Hospital and staff members Emre Umar and Maria Carpio, of implementing unconstitutional policies and practices.

In addition, Helijas argued that “the actions of the Defendants ... represent a claim for conscious pain and suffering under the law of the state of New York ... [and] grossly so.”

Finally, the complaint stated that “Defendant Schenectady County is directly responsible for the actions and inactions of its various employees taken in the scope of their employment, and is consequently directly responsible for decedent’s wrongful death and conscious pain and suffering. Correctional Medical Care and Ellis Hospital are similarly responsible for the conduct of their employees.”

The facts showed that staff at the jail and hospital thought Wilkins was “faking” his depression before he took his own life after being denied appropriate mental health care.

The parties eventually settled after two years of litigation, and on July 28, 2017, U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel J. Stewart entered an order stating “Gail Helijas, as Administratrix of the Estate of Lucky Lee Wilkens, Jr., is hereby authorized to accept the sum of $101,500.00 for settlement of all claims made on behalf of decedent in this matter.”

Following a dispute regarding several provisions in the settlement agreement, the case was dismissed by stipulation in February 2018. See: Helijas v. Correctional Medical Care, U.S.D.C. (N.D. NY), Case No. 1:15-cv-01049-DJS.

New York’s Attorney General had previously found that CMC had violated state law by engaging in the “corporate practice of medicine” at the Schenectady County jail and a dozen other jails in New York. That finding resulted in a September 2014 settlement agreement that required CMC to restructure, hire an independent monitor and pay $200,000 in restitution and penalties. [See: PLN, Sept. 2016, p.54].

 

Related legal case

Helijas v. Correctional Medical Care


 

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