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Jury Awards Former Virginia Prisoner Over $1 Million After Finding of Medical Malpractice against Prison Doctor

by Douglas Ankney

On July 19, 2019, a federal jury in Richmond, Virginia awarded former prisoner John Kinlaw $708,671 in compensatory damages plus $625,000 in punitive damages after finding in his favor on claims of medical malpractice and negligence against Armor Correctional Health Services (Armor) and its employee, Dr. Charles Nwaokocha. The court later reduced the punitive damages to the $350,000 maximum permitted under Virginia law.

On November 19, 2016, Kinlaw was incarcerated at the Lunenburg Correctional Center (LCC) when he fell while playing sports. He heard a loud popping sound, and his immediate symptoms included severe pain, swelling, bruising and immobility of his right hand.

Kinlaw immediately sought medical attention from staff at LCC who were employed by Armor.

Nurse Price contacted Dr. Nwaokocha, who said “under no circumstances” should Kinlaw be transported to the local emergency room. The doctor further instructed Nurse Banks to make sure that Kinlaw did not receive an X-ray until X-ray tech Mullins returned to work two days later.

Once back at work, Mullins took the X-ray and electronically sent it to the University of Virginia (UVA). On November 22, 2019, Dr. Nwaokocha received the X-ray radiology report from UVA that stated, in part, the ring finger on Kinlaw’s right hand was broken at the base and there was a displacement of a fracture fragment.

On November 30, 2016, a nurse told Nwaokocha that Kinlaw needed to be sent out of the prison to be fitted for a specialty splint because Kinlaw had been in extreme pain for over a week, was unable to bend his finger and couldn’t grasp anything with his right hand.

Dr. Nwaokocha refused and instead made a splint from a piece of foam board and an Ace bandage. It wasn’t until January 2017 that Kinlaw received an MRI and was told he would need surgery to remove the bone fragment from the joint, but “if he had been treated right after the injury it could have been fixed without surgery.”

In June 2017, Kinlaw’s parents had to contact the Chief of Corrections because no surgery had yet been performed.

Dr. Nwaokocha was allegedly preventing Kinlaw from having the surgery because he would soon be released from prison and then Armor would not have to pay for it.

Finally, on July 14, 2017 – eleven days before Kinlaw’s scheduled release date – the bone fragment was surgically removed. However, Kinlaw was told that because the finger wasn’t set properly or put into a brace, it did not heal in alignment. The only way he will ever be able to grasp objects or close his hand is if the finger is amputated.

Readers should take note that Kinlaw was not required to prove an Eighth Amendment claim based on deliberate indifference; rather, he brought state law medical malpractice and negligence claims in federal court due to diversity of citizenship, because he returned to Ohio upon his release from prison.

According to a press release, the $1.05 million in damages awarded to Kinlaw was “believed to be the largest jury verdict awarded to a current or former [Virginia] Department of Corrections prisoner in a medical malpractice case.”

The lawsuit was funded by Nexus Services. “This verdict is the beginning of a campaign we will wage to free inmates from solitary confinement conditions, medical malpractice issues, and inmate abuse by guards,” said Nexus CEO Mike Donovan. See: Kinlaw v. Nwaokocha, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Va.), Case No. 3:17-cv-00772-REP. 


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Related legal case

Kinlaw v. Nwaokocha