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Almost $42,500 Awarded to Illinois Prisoner for Denial of Physical Therapy by Wellpath Nurse

by Casey J. Bastian

On May 31, 2022, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois awarded attorney’s fees and costs totaling $17,449.90 to a state prisoner who earlier convinced a jury that a prison nurse’s dilly-dallying deprived him of prescribed physical therapy. For unnecessary pain and suffering that resulted, the jury had awarded Andrew D. Coe a total of $25,000 in damages on March 2, 2022.

Coe was housed at the Danville Correctional Center (DCC) operated by the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) in 2017. On June 27, 2017, Coe was to be provided three months of physical therapy for treatment of a back injury sustained in an automobile accident prior to incarceration.

Dr. Justin Young prescribed the treatment and directed a nurse to provide Coe with a “10-day medical permit card for physical therapy for Monday’s, Wednesday’s, and Friday’s at 4:00 p.m.” Immediately thereafter, nurse Elicia Pearson assumed control of issuing Coe’s medical permit card. Pearson instructed Coe to wait in the healthcare unit waiting area to allow her time to prepare and issue the card.

Approximately 30 minutes later, Pearson stated to Coe that she was too busy right then to process the card, but she would “send it by a correctional officer.” Coe returned to his housing without the medical permit card.

When he still had no card two weeks later, Coe filed an emergency grievance concerning Pearson’s omission. The prison warden deemed this an appropriately filed emergency grievance. However, no action was taken by Pearson or any other DCC medical staff.

During July and August 2017, Coe contacted Pearson directly more than once to remind her of the failure to issue the medial card. Coe repeatedly advised Pearson that this was delaying his treatment and causing him unnecessary pain as a result. Pearson again promised the medical card would be issued promptly. To facilitate the process, Coe asked if he needed again to sign up for sick call; Pearson issued an unequivocal “no.”

During the entire three-month period beginning on June 27, 2017, Coe was never provided the prescribed medical permit card. Nor was he ever provided the physical therapy care prescribed by Dr. Young. Another nurse told Coe that Pearson had completed the card, but “forgot to give it to” Coe. Without the pass, Coe was unable to leave his cellhouse or enter the DCC healthcare unit to receive the prescribed psychical therapy.

Coe eventually filed suit in the Court on November 28, 2017. Proceeding under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, he accused Pearson and her employer, DOC healthcare contractor Wexford Health Services, of interfering with a doctor’s order and delaying his medical treatment, thereby demonstrating deliberate indifference to his serious medical need in violation of his Eighth Amendment guarantee of freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. Coe’s complaint also included a request for relief and monetary damages under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. ch. 126, §12101, et seq., and the Rehabilitation Act.

Coe alleged that Pearson’s interference caused him to experience a variety of excess pains. According to the complaint, more than five months had elapsed since the permit was supposed to be issued. Meanwhile Coe was suffering from lower back pain and stiffness that rendered him unable to walk, stand, or sleep.

The case went to trial, by which point Wexford Health Services had been dropped as a defendant. The jury then found Pearson liable for Coe’s injuries and awarded $15,000 for physical injury and $5,000 for mental and emotional pain, plus punitive damages of $5,000.

The Court originally granted Plaintiff’s motion for attorney fees totaling $23,349.90 under 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b). On a motion by the defendant, however, the Court lowered that amount to $17,099.90 because the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e, requires that Plaintiffs pay a share of attorney’s fees up to 25% of any judgment awarded. In this case, that reduced Coe’s $25,000 award by $6,250.

As a result, Coe was awarded a total of $25,000 in damages, plus $17,099.90 in fees and $350 in costs for his attorney, Thomas J. Pliura of Leroy. See: Coe v Pearson, USDC (C.D. Ill.), Case No. 2:17-cv-02291.