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Class-Action Challenge to Medical Care at Tennessee Jail Results in $3.8 Million Settlement

For years, prisoners at the Bradley County jail in Tennessee received poor medical care or none at all. Former prisoner Darrell Eden, who was denied treatment for pre-arrest injuries sustained during a car accident, including seven broken ribs, filed a class-action lawsuit in 2018 challenging inadequate medical treatment under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Eighteen more plaintiffs were added when the federal court for the Eastern District of Tennessee certified the suit a class-action in July 2021. On June 28, 2023, the parties reached a settlement that allocated $2,130,613.57 for class members’ claims.

The complaint alleged the Bradley County jail had “knowingly maintained a system of inmate health care … that falls below the constitutional minimum, which has subjected (and continues to subject) all inmates to a substantial risk of harm.” In addition to the county and current Sheriff Eric Watson, the private contractors that provided medical treatment at the jail— Quality Correctional Health Care, Inc. and Fast Access Correctional Healthcare, PLLC—were named as defendants.

The parties agreed to settle during court-ordered mediation. The amount of individual damage awards will vary depending on the type of injury suffered, but claims that involve a death will receive at least $200,000, except for deaths resulting from suicide.

The damages class consists of all prisoners held at the Bradley County jail from September 18, 2017, to November 29, 2023, who had obvious or diagnosed medical conditions and received no treatment or inadequate treatment, resulting in unnecessary pain, suffering or discomfort. Claims had to be filed by March 8, 2024.

“I remember asking for mental health care,” former jail prisoner Seth Tate wrote in his settlement claim. “I was afraid of the provider (the head nurse). She would scream at inmates who approached her. One of the inmates who approached her to ask a question was even sprayed with mace .… I felt trapped and was not screened or even given a preliminary exam.”

Class members could make a “Feinberg election” for their claim, which does not require corroborating evidence of their medical condition or lack of adequate treatment; the settlement provides for payments up to $400 for each valid Feinberg election.

An additional $205,000 was allocated for the settlement administrator, Settlement Services, Inc., located in Tallahassee, Florida, plus $200,000 for Special Master fees. Further, the 19 named plaintiffs in the suit will each receive $5,000 in incentive awards.

The total settlement was capped at $3.8 million, inclusive of all payments, fees and awards. The parties agreed to $1.14 million in attorney fees for class counsel, representing 30% of the $3.8 million cap, plus $124,386.43 in litigation costs.

The settlement also provided for injunctive relief for prisoners currently held at the jail or who will be housed there in the future. Bradley County must maintain a “previously adopted $275,000.00 increase in the budget for medical staffing at the jail” for two years, beginning in fiscal year 2024. At the end of the first year the county must hire a consultant to evaluate compliance by the jail and its medical services contractors; compliance will also be monitored by class counsel for two years.

The settlement was granted initial approval by the district court on November 16, 2023, with a fairness hearing for final approval scheduled for April 5, 2024. Plaintiff class members were provided counsel by attorneys C. Scott Johnson, William J. Rieder and Joseph A. Jackson II of Spears, Moore, Rebman & Williams, P.C., in Chattanooga and Cleveland attorney J. Allen Murphy, Jr. See: Eden v. Bradley Cty., USDC (E.D. Tenn.), Case No. 1:18-cv-00217.   


Additional source: Chattanooga Times Free Press

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Related legal case

Eden v. Bradley Cty