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Over $980,000 in Damages, Fees Awarded in Deliberate Indifference Case Against Wexford

by Kevin W. Bliss

Private prison medical care firm Wexford Health Sources, Inc. filed a motion in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, asking for judgment as a matter of law after being found liable for policies that created an atmosphere of deliberate indifference to the medical needs of Stateville Correctional Center prisoner Lamont Hall. Wexford contended that it could not be held responsible when the physician it employed at Stateville, Arthur Funk, was not held liable for the same claims.

Hall suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his penis, which required surgery. The first surgery left a hole in the underside of his penis which needed constant medical attention and treatment. Before Hall was able to receive follow-up surgery, he was incarcerated on unrelated charges. He stated that upon his arrival at Stateville he received inadequate medical care and was denied the second surgery. He was forced to perform self-catheterization four times a day without the aid of a numbing agent, and sometimes went a week without proper medical supplies. Hall said his condition required that he sit while urinating. All of this subjected him to embarrassment and the ridicule of other prisoners.

Represented by attorney Jack R. Bierig with Sidley Austin LLP, Hall filed suit against Dr. Funk and Wexford for infliction of emotional distress and deliberate indifference. The trial was held in April 2018, and the jury found in favor of Dr. Funk but held Wexford liable for deliberate indifference. In an April 13, 2018 verdict, it awarded Hall $125,000 in compensatory damages plus $300,000 in punitive damages, all to be paid by Wexford.

The company filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law, arguing the verdict was inconsistent. Case law indicated the jury could not hold an organization liable when the individual defendant in its employ was found not to have inflicted harm. The district court ruled that the Seventh Circuit had clarified this point, stating institutional liability was possible if the institution set forth policies that created an environment of deliberate indifference. Wexford’s policy of denying “elective” surgeries qualified as a policy that was clearly and deliberately indifferent to Hall’s medical needs.

In the alternative, Wexford asked the district court to grant a new trial raising some of the same arguments. The court found the company had not shown that the jury’s verdict was a miscarriage of justice. The only viable argument Wexford may have had was that the jury instructions misstated the law because they did not inform the jury they had to find Wexford’s policies themselves to be deliberately indifferent. Yet the firm had waived its right to that argument when it failed to object to the jury instruction. In fact, Wexford contended that the instruction was legally accurate, just had not been adhered to by the jurors.

The district court denied Wexford’s motion on all grounds and granted Hall $531,250 in attorney fees plus $20,508.05 in costs. Wexford filed a notice of appeal to the Seventh Circuit on April 15, 2019, which remains pending. See: Hall v. Funk, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ill.), Case No. 1:14-cv-06308. 

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Additional source: chicagotalks.org

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Hall v. Funk