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$10 Million Awarded Against Corizon and Oregon County for Jail Detox Death

by Matt Clarke

On December 5, 2018, an Oregon federal court entered a $10 million judgment against Washington County and Corizon Health, Inc. in a lawsuit over the death of a detainee who was detoxing from heroin. 

As she was being booked into the Washington County jail in Hillsboro, Oregon on April 1, 2014, Madaline Pitkin, 26, told medical staff that she had injected one gram of heroin before being arrested on a possession charge the previous day, and was already experiencing withdrawal symptoms. The next morning, Corizon LPN Louise Duru performed a Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale (COWS) evaluation on Pitkin, but incorrectly tabulated the results. Nonetheless, she ordered a Partial Opiate Withdrawal Protocol (POWP) consisting of oral doses of Hydroxyzine, Acetaminophen and Promethazine. 

The following day, Pitkin submitted a health care request stating she was in “full blown withdrawal” and asking that her withdrawal medications be started. She experienced vomiting and weakness, and was unable to keep down food or liquids. The next morning, her vomit-soiled bedding had to be replaced. 

She then submitted a second health care request saying she was detoxing really bad. Video surveillance showed her unable to walk more than a few feet and bent over or squatting due to pain. 

The following day Pitkin submitted a third health care request indicating she was constantly vomiting and having diarrhea, couldn’t keep food or liquids down, was in severe pain, and was weak and felt near death. Video surveillance footage showed her unable to stand in line to get meals. The next day she submitted her last health care request, stating she was unable to hear, was seeing lights and felt near death. She ended the request with the plea, “Please help me.” 

By that time, guards had repeatedly tried to get medical employees to provide treatment to Pitkin without success. Corizon staff had merely noted on her health care requests that she was already on the POWP, without examining her or seeing if the medications were being delivered or were effective in light of her continual vomiting. An LPN did examine her later that day, but was unable to get a blood pressure reading. The LPN contacted more qualified staff and Pitkin was eventually seen by an RN, a doctor and the Director of Nursing, none of whom were able to get an accurate reading because her blood pressure was too low. 

Pitkin was moved to a medical observation cell, and given another COWS evaluation and a pitcher of Gatorade. Corizon fired the doctor that day, leaving no doctor at the jail and, as a result, the physician assistant (PA) unable to practice medicine. Pitkin died the following morning. An autopsy showed no drugs or medication in her system; her death was due to dehydration. A simple IV would have saved her life. [See: PLN, Sept. 2017, p.32; April 2017, p.63].

Aided by Portland attorney Timothy J. Jones, Pitkin’s parents filed a federal civil rights suit against Washington County officials, Corizon and the company’s medical staff. Court documents contained allegations that, prior to Pitkin’s death, the Washington County Auditor had reported Corizon was understaffing at the jail and the county was not properly monitoring the quality of medical care provided by the company. The report also noted that, in the months preceding Pitkin’s death, Corizon’s Health Services Manager at the jail alerted senior company officials about understaffing and the jail’s PA repeatedly told county officials that Corizon was placing profit over patient safety, leaving the facility undermanned with insufficiently trained medical personnel. 

Rather than face a federal jury, Corizon opted to pay $10 million to settle the wrongful death suit. The plaintiffs notified the district court of satisfaction of the judgment on March 4, 2019. See: Pitkin v. Corizon Health, U.S.D.C. (D. Ore.), Case No. 3:16-cv-02235-AA. 


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Related legal case

Pitkin v. Corizon Health