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$2.125 Million Paid So Far for Virginia Prisoner’s Death from Treatable Aneurism

by Matt Clarke

On April 5, 2023, the federal court for the Eastern District of Virginia refused a motion for judgment as a matter of law, or in the alternative a new trial, made by defendant prison officials and their private medical contractor, Armor Correctional Health Services, in a civil rights suit filed on behalf of a state prisoner whose medical complaints were met with nothing more than Mylanta – just hours before he died of an aneurism. That left to stand a jury award to Plaintiffs of $4 million made on December 9, 2022, of which the state Department of Corrections (DOC) has since settled its share for $1.875 million.

As PLN reported, DOC parted ways rancorously with Miami-based Armor in December 2021, when then-Director Harold Clarke said that his “relationship and correspondence with the vendor has degraded significantly,” to which Armor shot back: “This decision is consistent with a well-documented pattern of mismanagement” at DOC. [See: PLN, Mar. 2022, p.14.]

Prior to that, while Armor still held the contract to provide DOC healthcare, prisoner Robert Lee Boley died at the Deerfield Men’s Work Center on April 16, 2019. With the aid of Richmond attorneys Mark J. Krudys and Danny G. Zemel, his brothers filed a complaint accusing prison staff and Armor medical personnel of denying medical treatment in violation of the Eighth Amendment guarantee of freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, as well as making state-law tort and negligence claims.

The suit claimed that Boley repeatedly complained of severe chest pain to guards and Armor LPN Arleathia Peck. She told him to put in a sick-call form to be seen the next day. He telephoned his brother and told him what was happening, also sharing his experiences with other prisoners who later testified at trial.

A few minutes after Peck completed her shift, closed the medical department and left the prison, Boley collapsed. Responding to an emergency call from a nearby women’s prison, LPN Charlotte Hayes arrived. An employee of another DOC contractor, NurseSpring, she measured his pulse at 60 BPM and his blood pressure at 66/48. That prompted her to phone the on-call physician, Dr. Alvin Harris.

Harris had Hayes perform an EKG and read the results to him over the phone. The EKG emerged as “Borderline Abnormal.” Nevertheless, Harris had Hayes give Boley a dose of Mylanta and schedule a follow up appointment for the next day. Before that could happen, though, Boley died early the following morning of a ruptured aortic aneurism.

Hayes and NurseSpring moved to dismiss the complaint, but that motion was denied on March 28, 2022. See: Boley v. Armor Corr. Health Servs., 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 56244 (E.D. Va.). They then settled their part of the lawsuit on May 4, 2022, for $250,000, including $83,333.33 in attorney fees and $45,225.08 in costs.

Two more motions for summary judgment by the remaining Defendants from DOC and Armor were denied on November 15, 2022. See: Boley v. Armor Corr. Health Servs., 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 207917 (E.D. Va.); and 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 207909 (E.D. Va.).

At trial the following month, Plaintiffs’ cardiovascular expert witness, Dr. Richard Kundi of the University of Maryland Medical System, testified that Boley’s symptoms were classic indicators of an aortic aneurism. He said surgery to repair it would almost certainly have saved the prisoner’s life, even had he arrived at the Emergency Department as much as 14 hours after his initial complaint about the chest pain.

A jury then found that Peck and guard Sgt. Emmanuel Bynum were grossly negligent, making Armor and DOC vicariously liable. The jury awarded each brother $2,000,000 in compensatory damages, of which the attorneys were to receive one-third, plus costs. Defendants moved for judgment as a matter of law or a new trial. But on April 5, 2023, the Court granted only an amended judgment clarifying that the jury did not award pre-judgment interest. See: Boley v. Armor Corr. Health Servs., 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 60393 (E.D. Va.).

Both Bynum and Peck turned to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which consolidated their cases, only to deconsolidate them on July 5, 2023, in order to send Bynum back to the district court for approval of the proposed settlement on his behalf. That agreement was approved on July 11, 2023. Under its terms, each of Boley’s brothers receives $590,688.13, with another $625,000 to their counsel in fees and an additional $68,623.74 in costs. See: Boley v. Armor Corr. Health Servs., USDC (E.D.Va.), Case No. 2:21-cv-00197.

The appeal by Peck and Armor remains pending at the Fourth Circuit, and PLN will report updates as they are available. See: Boley v. Armor Corr. Health Servs., USCA (4th Cir.), Case No. 23-1493.

Since parting ways with Armor, DOC has brought healthcare in house – one of the few prison or jail systems in the country to outsource prisoner medical care and then take it back.  

Additional source: Richmond Times-Dispatch

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