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Federal Judge in South Carolina Holds BOP Liable for Delayed Treatment That Left Federal Prisoner Partially Blinded

by Casey J. Bastian

On May 3, 2022, the federal court for the District of South Carolina granted summary judgment to a federal prisoner left partially blinded by delayed treatment of a malignant melanoma. The ruling adopted a magistrate judge’s report and recommendation issued on April 6, 2022.

On June 5, 2019, while held by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) at the Federal Correctional Institution in Estill, Kanhnell Christian saw an independently contracted optometrist, Dr. David McKenzie. After examining the prisoner’s left eye, McKenzie made a referral to a retina specialist “stat.” The reason: “possible malignant choroidal melanoma OS.”

The next day, the referral was documented in Christian’s medical file by Dr. Richard Lepiane, the prison’s medical director. But Christian did not see a retina specialist until October 21, 2019 — “more than four and a half months after ‘an urgent ophthalmology consult ha[d] been approved,’” according to Lepiane’s notes. By that point it was too late; Christian had lost the use of his left eye.

With the aid of Spartanburg attorneys Charles J. Hodge and Timothy R. Langley of the Hodge and Langley Law Firm PC, along with Tyler B. Rody, Christian filed suit in the Court for gross negligence and medical negligence, pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). Since that statute handles claims according to state tort laws, this required expert testimony in South Carolina.

Dr. Manual Chaknis, who is licensed in South Carolina and certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology, testified that the departure from “accepted practices and procedures” proximately caused Christian’s injury. Chaknis noted that “stat” means “within 48 hours.” Even Lepiane acknowledged that Christian “did not get the care he should have gotten.”

Concerning the gross negligence claim, the magistrate found that Christian demonstrated an “intentional conscious failure” by BOP to treat him. Though he was owed a timely consult with a retina specialist, BOP failed to act in a timely manner, the judge found, and Christian was damaged as a result.

Defendants conceded the relevant facts. The Court then noted that granting Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment is appropriate where there is “no genuine dispute as to any material fact.” Accordingly, Christian was entitled to relief under the FTCA for gross negligence and medical malpractice. See: Christian v. United States, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 80626 (D.S.C.); and 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 80420 (D.S.C.) .

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