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Washington: Jail Detainee Obtains $1 Million Settlement for Spinal Injury

by Steve Horn

Bryan Telford, who was held as a pretrial detainee at the King County Correctional Facility in Seattle, Washington in September 2016, recently obtained a $1 million settlement in a lawsuit filed against the county.

Telford suffers from frequent fainting – known as syncope – and suffered a serious spinal injury when he fainted and fell at the King County jail. His lawsuit, filed in state court, argued that jail officials did not do enough to treat him after that incident. The complaint also alleged guards mocked and ridiculed him following the syncope episode on September 27, 2016.

“When he awoke, the plaintiff asked to by (sic) taken to Harborview Medical Center because of his extreme pain, but his request was denied,” the complaint stated. “However, one of the correctional officers told the plaintiff to get his ‘ass’ back to his bunk before they ‘tazed’ him.... Another officer began to clap his hands and said, ‘And the Academy Award goes to....’”

Further, a female guard threatened Telford with solitary confinement in “the hole” if he continued to complain about his injuries from the fainting incident; he was placed in solitary and charged with a disciplinary infraction instead of being taken to a hospital.

The complaint also alleged that jail staff were aware of Telford’s medical condition but willfully ignored that condition, which compounded what would end up being long-term medical problems. Rather than receiving adequate care for his complaints about back pain, he was given a walker.

Telford’s symptoms worsened and on October 3, 2016 he fell twice, both times complaining of back pain. After the second fall, he reported that he “lost strength in his legs” and had been unable to have a bowel movement. When he was finally sent to a hospital four days later, an MRI found Telford had spinal cord compression and edema (swelling), and he subsequently underwent surgery for a discectomy and fusion.

His lawsuit said he suffered a permanent spinal injury due to the jail’s failure to send him to an outside medical facility for treatment in a timely manner. The complaint raised three claims: careless and negligent medical care, willful and wanton conduct by jail staff, and outrage.

The claim of outrage, the complaint stated, was included because King County “was under a duty to avoid engaging in conduct so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.”

Craig M. Sandberg, a Chicago-based attorney who represented Telford in the lawsuit, explained that his client now has difficulty walking, balance problems, muscle spasticity (when muscles are continuously contracted) and nerve impairment in his neck from the spinal injury he suffered due to the fainting incident and lack of timely medical care.

“The value to the injury for prisoners generally is that I anticipate that King County is going to redouble its efforts to care for each patient individually” going forward, Sandberg told Prison Legal News. “As a health care provider, you have the obligation to care for each individual.”

The assault charge that landed Telford in the King County jail was later dismissed.Telford, who resides in Pierce County, Washington, was also represented by attorneys Jason Anderson and Tyler Santiago with the Seattle law firm of Anderson Santiago, PLLC. The $1 million settlement, which included attorney fees and costs, was reached in September 2018. See: Telford v. County of King, King County Superior Court (WA), Case No. 17-2-23074-0-SEA. 

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Related legal case

Telford v. County of King