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$12.6 Million Jury Award for Man Denied Medical Care Before Jailed

by David M. Reutter

A California federal jury awarded $12,617,674 to a man who suffered brain damage after San Diego County sheriff’s deputies pulled him away from an examining paramedic and hauled him off to jail.

David Collins called 911 on November 18, 2016, while hallucinating in his home. Deputies Matthew Chavez, David Sanchez, and Steven Block responded to the call. After assessing the scene and Collins, they left. Shortly afterward, Collins went outside his home and fell inside a soft planter close to his residence. Neighbors called 911.

A paramedic responding with the fire department was examining Collins when Sanchez, Chavez, and Block arrived at the scene. The deputies concluded that Collins was intoxicated and pulled him away from the paramedic, who had not completed his evaluation.

Collins’ civil rights complaint alleged that the paramedic found Collins was not intoxicated and that he had no injuries to his face when taken into custody.

Upon arrival at the Vista Contention Center, Collins “had a noticeable abrasion on the right side of his forehead, along with other scratches and bruising on his face. Nurse Jonathan Symmonds conducted the initial medial review and found no medical issues. He authorized placement into a holding cell where Collins fell, striking his head on the floor. Nurse Roela Carolino examined him and authorized Collins to return to the cell. Once again, he fell.

The result of the falls was a “brain bleed.” Collins was transported to a hospital where he was diagnosed with a brain hemorrhage, hematoma on his forehead, an altered level of consciousness, dehydration, and a dangerously low-blood sodium level. He was administered too much sodium too quickly, which increased the level of brain damage. Collins reached a settlement with the hospital and medical defendants prior to trial.

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Office argued that the fact Collins spent the previous two to three weeks drinking beer, playing video games and “not even stopping to attend to his basic human needs” contributed to his illness and injuries.

In a statement after the jury rendered its verdict, Lt. Justin White wrote, “If Mr. Collins had tended to his own needs, first responders would not have been called, and he would not have ended up needing to go to the hospital for treatment.”

It was clear that the jury in its July 26, 2019 verdict felt deputies and jail personnel had a duty to assure Collins received care once he came into their custody. It assessed a percentage of 30, 16, 14 and 40 liability, respectively, against Carolino, Chavez, Sanchez, and Symmonds for the harm caused to Collins.

The jury awarded past economic damages of $71,519 for lost earnings and $256,185 for medical expenses; future economic damages of $1,100,318 for lost earnings; $3,189,652 in medical expenses; $500,000 for past physical and mental pain and $7.5 million in future physical and mental pain.

Collins was represented by attorneys Elizabeth H. Teixeira and Robert F. Vaage. See: Collins v. County of San Diego, San Diego County, California Superior Court, Case no. 37-2017-00028981. 

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Related legal case

Collins v. County of San Diego