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$3,500 Settlement in Medical-Care Claim Arrives Too Late for Illinois Prisoner Felled by COVID-19

by David M. Reutter

On November 21, 2021, a federal lawsuit filed by an Illinois prisoner against officials with the state Department of Corrections (DOC) was dismissed, after the state agreed to pay $3,500 to settle his claims that staff’s persistent refusal to provide proper medical care for an arm injury caused him pain and suffering. Sadly for the prisoner, William F. Sobczyk, he was dead by then, killed by COVID-19 on May 4, 2020, at age 53.

Sobczyk’s saga began with a bar fight at the now-shuttered Two-Way Bar & Grill on Chicago’s North Side on January 31, 2014. Sobczyk, then 47, was arrested and charged with aggravated battery on a 63-year-old bar patron. He was convicted and sentenced to a five-year prison term at Dixon Correctional Center.

While held there on July 19, 2015, Sobczyk severely injured his right arm. He submitted a sick-call request that was allegedly ignored. Only when a guard noticed the injury two days later was Sobczyk sent to the health care unit.

Once there, he was seen by nurse Lynn Chattic, informing her that he heard an audible ‘pop’ or ‘snap’ and felt ‘shimmering’ during the injury. He had difficulty turning that arm’s palm up or down, and he could not make the biceps muscle tight. There was bulge in the upper right arm that was still present at the time he filed his amended civil rights complaint on September 20, 2018. Chaotic said she would put Sobczyk in queue to see a doctor, but she never did.

Sobczyk further alleged that on July 28, 2015, licensed practical nurse Karyll Edwards falsely documented that he refused treatment for his injury. Then on November 10, 2015, nurse practitioner Susan Tuell examined Sobczyk and said his injury could have been successfully treated had he seen a doctor sooner, but the lapse of time rendered effective treatment impossible. As a result, Sobczyk claimed he endured permanent pain, deformity and an inability to use his right arm.

All these allegations were laid out in his lawsuit, which was filed pro se in federal court for the Northern District of Illinois on May 5, 2016. That Court later appointed him counsel on September 22, 2017, from Antioch attorney Robert T. Edens. The lawyer then helped Sobczyk file his amended complaint and later stipulate to dismiss Tuell as a defendant, as well as her employer, DOC healthcare contractor Wexford Health Sources, on November 30, 2018.

After a delay for a change in judges, Sobczyk agreed to the $3,500 settlement on January 2, 2020, with each party bearing its own costs and fees. The next day, he was arrested again for another fight at the same bar that occurred in January 2019, after his release from DOC.

Meanwhile, state Assistant Attorney General John Catalano, Jr., didn’t sign the stipulation to dismiss the case until April 10, 2020. The Court didn’t grant the motion until June 10, 2020. In between those two dates, Sobczyk became the 17th victim to die of COVID-19 in the Cook County Jail.

Edens located Sobczyk’s two adult daughters, Vanessa, 26, and Veronica, 24. He asked the Court to reopen the case to spread the record of Sobczyk’s death so that his heirs could receive the settlement. After those details were mopped up, the funds were released, and the case was dismissed for good. See: Sobezyk v. Chattic, USDC (N.D. Ill.), Case No. 3:16-cv-50121.

Additional source: Arlington Cardinal

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Related legal case

Sobezyk v. Chattic