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$450,000 Settlement to Illinois Prisoner Whose Untreated Boil Left Him Paraplegic

by Harold Hempstead

On August 17, 2021, after the IllinoisDepartment of Corrections (DOC) paid $450,000 to settle claims of medical neglect that cost him the use of his legs, a state prisoner successfully petitioned a federal court to dismiss his lawsuit.

In September 2017, while held at Hill Correctional Center, Stephen Tripp developed a boil under his arm. He reported it to employees of Wexford Health Sources, Inc., DOC’s privately contracted healthcare provider. After the boil burst, a wound culture revealed that Tripp had a Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection. But no Wexford employee acted on that information.

Over more than 14 months that followed, Tripp’s wound swelled and turned red, with a thick yellow discharge. He suffered worsening weakness, dizziness, fever, nausea and vomiting. He developed a knot in the middle of his back on his spine, suffering pain when his back was palpated. As his legs became progressively more numb, the previously healthy man developed an unsteady gait. He soon required a walker. Then a wheelchair. All the while, he complained of pain when bending or stooping, constipation and urinary incontinence.

Finally, in December 2018, Tripp was taken to a hospital. There an MRI showed “a large epidural abscess causing compression of the spine.” He received two laminectomies to remove the abscess. But it was too late. He lost all mobility in his legs and was left paraplegic, confined to a wheelchair.

On December 23, 2018, with the help of attorneys Alexis G. Chardon and Stephen H. Weil of Weil & Chardon LLC, Tripp filed suit in federal court for the Northern District of Illinois, accusing Wexford, nurse Lois Lindorff, Dr. Catalino Bautista and several “Doe” defendants of medical negligence, as well as deliberate indifference to his serious medical need, in violation of his Eighth Amendment Right to adequate medical care.

Tripp argued that Defendants knew he was at risk of systemic MRSA infection, and that his fever, nausea and weakness were symptoms. They also knew the pain in his ribcage and back, plus his fever and incontinence, were all symptoms of a spinal epidural abscess. An infection of the epidural space that is one of the known dangers of systemic MRSA infection, it can, if left untreated, “compress the spine and lead to severe injury or paralysis, and death.”

Yet Tripp was never evaluated for systemic MRSA infection or epidural abscess. In fact, he argued, Defendants took no action to provide him with adequate medical care.

In June 2021, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office and DOC agreed to settle the complaint for $450,000, including attorney fees and costs. By that point Tripp was represented by attorney Terry Garmey of Garmey Law in Portland, Maine. See: Tripp v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc., USDC (C.D. Ill.), Case No. 4:18-CV-04229. 

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