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$150,000 Paid to Family of California Pretrial Detainee Who Died from Valley Fever

by David M. Reutter

A California federal court approved a $150,000 settlement on October 13, 2021, for the estate of a prisoner who died of valley fever at the Merced County Jail.

The prisoner, 29-year-old Luis Patino, was booked into the county’s main jail on June 24, 2017, dutifully reporting a list of health problems that included “a history of heart disease, high blood pressure, asthma, bipolar and post-traumatic stress disorder, and a suicide attempt,” according to a complaint his family later filed.

He first reported to the jail medical staff that he was experiencing pain around his left rib cage on September 14, 2017. He was diagnosed with muscle pain and treated with Ibuprofen. He returned to see jail medical staff on September 20, 2017, complaining he was still in pain. This time he was diagnosed with a cold and given an expectorant and antihistamine.

But the next day, he was still complaining of a continuous cough. He was also worried that his cellmates were growing irritable from the noise, so he was put in a “sobering cell,” away from other prisoners, but also without a mattress.

The next night, on September 22, 2017, Patino reported that not only did he still feel sick but also that he wanted to “hurt everyone around him,” the complaint recalled. He was given Tylenol and placed in an interview room, where he told a jail official that he wanted to go back on his mental health medications. Yet three days later, he took himself off those, saying the medications made him “feel weird.”

Three days later, on September 25, 2017, Patino collapsed in his cell after doing pushups and later died. An autopsy revealed he had been infected with Valley Fever, which had spread—“disseminated”—throughout his body. A fungal infection, Valley Fever is typically mild and easily treated, but it can have more serious effects if not caught and treated early.

On behalf of Patino’s surviving minor daughters, a lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California on October 24, 2018, accusing jail officials and staff of its contracted health care provider, California Forensic Medical Group, Inc., of negligence and indifference for their failure to diagnose or treat his illness, for which they “instead simply prescribe(ed) pain and cold medications.”

The parties reached a settlement on July 2, 2020. Because it was to benefit Patino’s minor children, the Court was required to determine if the settlement was fair and reasonable in light of the facts. After citing several similar cases, the Court approved the settlement as a legitimate and fair compromise.

The $150,000 settlement provides for $47,513.67 to be distributed to each of Patino’s two children for the purchase of a tax-free annuity that will provide them payments until they turn 18. The remainder of the funds was split between $37,500 in attorney fees and $17,472.66 in costs that was paid to counsel for the two minor girls, Robert John Schwartz and J. Gary Gwilliam of the Oakland firm of Gwilliam Ivary Chiosso Cavalli & Brewer. See: Patino v. County of Merced, Case No. 1:18-cv-01468, USDC (E.D. Calif. 2021).

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Related legal case

Patino v. County of Merced