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Washington State: Jury Awards $549,000 to Prisoner Denied Pain Medication

by Chad Marks

Etienne L. Choquette, incarcerated in a Washington State prison, suffered from multiple sclerosis. A neurologist prescribed gabapentin – used to control pain and seizures – to address his condition, but Dr. Cris DuVall recommended stopping the medication. Choquette was eventually taken off gabapentin but subsequently requested to receive it again, explaining that without it he experienced negative effects. Dr. Michelle Southern denied his request but referred the case to a Care Review Committee (CRC).

A physician assistant argued to the CRC that the gabapentin prescription should be reinstated; however, the committee rejected that request. Absent his medication, Choquette suffered debilitating neuropathic pain. Dr. Annette Wundes examined him after he was transferred to the Monroe Correctional Complex from Walla Walla. She recommended that the gabapentin be readministered, as she noted that medication was the standard, first-line drug for neuropathic MS patients. Still, the committee declined to reinstate the prescription.

After five months of denying Choquette his gabapentin, Dr. Diego Lopez de Castilla presented the case to the CRC again, informing them of Dr. Wundes’ position and the information she provided. The committee finally determined that gabapentin was medically necessary for Choquette’s condition.

He then filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights action in federal court in Tacoma. A jury found that Dr. Southern, Dr. DuVall and another prison medical employee exhibited “deliberate indifference” to Choquette’s pain and medical needs when they denied him the medication necessary to treat his condition.

At the conclusion of the trial, on November 2, 2018, the jury awarded $149,000 in compensatory damages for a violation of Choquette’s Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment, plus $400,000 in punitive damages. The Washington Attorney General’s Office, which defended the prison officials, had no comment on the jury award.

Following the trial, Jesse Wing, one of Choquette’s attorneys, said: “The jury sent a strong message to the DOC and its officials that they must treat the prisoners under their care with basic human dignity.” 

The state did not appeal the verdict. See: Choquette v. DuVall, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Wash.), Case No. 3:15-cv-05838-BHS. 


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Related legal case

Choquette v. DuVall