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$9,000 Settlement in Wisconsin Prisoner’s Heat-­Related Illness Suit

by Matt Clarke

On October 3, 2023, the Wisconsin Department of Justice sent a check for $9,000 to a state prisoner in settlement of his claims that he suffered a heat-­related illness, fell and injured himself after state Department of Corrections (DOC) guards ignored his pleas for help. In addition to the settlement, the state agreed to waiver of $545.80 in costs for the prisoner, Paul D. Ammerman.

Beginning on June 4, 2021, there was a weather warning of high temperatures around Columbia Correctional Institution, where Ammerman was confined in administrative segregation (ad seg) at the time. He complained that the ventilation system was not functioning, but the complaint was rejected as moot because the system had allegedly been repaired. Ammerman had previously complained of being locked in ad-­seg with no fan and windows that did not open.

The warned-­of heat wave was still simmering four dayslater on June 8, 2021, when Ammerman began to complain of diarrhea, headaches, and muscle cramps—symptoms of heat-­related illness. His complaints were ignored, however; he also submitted a Health Services Request form to no avail.

Ammerman continued to complain of heat-­related illness the next day, adding that he had lost consciousness for 20 minutes. He complained to several staff members, including a guard, Sgt. Terstriep, another guard named Jackson and Nurse Johnson. Again, he was ignored.

That same day, about five hours later, a guard asked Ammerman if he wanted his bedtime medication; the prisoner again passed out, fell and struck his head on the edge of a desk. As he regained consciousness in a treatment room, “the nurse was trying to clean the blood off [his] face and head,” his complaint recalled. Rushed to a hospital, he had “fluids pumped into him” and “five (5) stitches put into his head,” plus a concussion review was performed.

Ammerman filed suit pro se pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in federal court for the Western District of Wisconsin, accusing Terstriep, Jackson, Johnson and other defendants of deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. During discovery, Ammerman was able to obtain video of guards’ body camera recordings showing him requesting medical assistance and complaining of heat-­related illness. The video also showed him passing out and his head striking the desk, bloodying his face. Oddly, DOC did not restrict him from sharing his settlement with PLN, but a copy of the video that he said was sent with it was not in the envelope.

In his accompanying letter, Ammerman said that as an inexperienced litigator, he settled “mostly because I do not know what I was doing,” adding that when it comes to monetary payouts, “some is better than none.” That is understandable considering how difficult it is for a pro se prisoner litigant to prevail in trial. See: Ammerman v. Jackson, USDC (W.D. Wisc.), Case No. 3:23-­cv-­00156.  

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Related legal case

Ammerman v. Jackson