Anna Holland Edwards and Erica Grossman recently won an $11,399,927 civil rights jury verdict in the Colorado Federal District Court case of Kenneth McGill v. Correctional Healthcare Companies et al. before Judge Brooke Jackson.
Ken McGill sued Correctional HealthCare (“CHC”), a private health care company hired by Jefferson County to provide medical care to inmates, Jefferson County and a charge nurse, for: 1) deliberate indifference to serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment, 2) unconstitutional policies, customs and training on the part of CHC, and 3) state law negligence.
On September 17, 2012, Ken McGill suffered a stroke in the Jefferson County jail during a Broncos Monday night football game at around 8:00 p.m. A tape recorded call between him and his wife from the jail during this time showed that he had slurred speech, told his wife he was having a stroke, that his right side was feeling numb and that he was afraid he was going to die. Other inmates clearly
recognized that he was having a stroke, as can be heard on the recorded call.
He was taken to nursing in the jail just minutes after this call and immediately told the defendant nurse he was having a stroke, his right side felt dead, he could not walk right and he was slurring his speech. The Charge Nurse did not believe Mr. McGill was really suffering from a stroke, did not call a doctor and, instead, diagnosed him with having rightsided weakness caused by anxiety. She sent him back to his POD but he was soon brought back down because inmates were so alarmed by his obvious stroke symptoms which included facial droop. Mr. McGill testified the nurse blew him off for his telling her he was having a stroke, saying things like: "Are you a doctor? What do you know about strokes?" When Mr. McGill reacted by saying she was not a doctor either and continued to beg her to get him to doctors at a hospital, she became upset with him for questioning her authority. Without calling a doctor, she decided the second time he came back to keep him confined overnight in a cell
on the floor.
A doctor was never even called until the next morning when a new nurse came on duty, about 12 hours later, eliminating all opportunity for him to timely receive tPA medication that likely would have reversed the adverse effects of the stroke. The jury was shown that he has been left with constant dizziness and cognitive impairments such that he is unable to return to his former work as a skilled estimator working on large construction projects.
The trial also demonstrated a culture of assumed fakery in CHC, in which nurses are encouraged to disregard serious subjective complaints of inmates (such as "my whole right side is dead") and diagnose outside their scope of practice without involving doctors. Other similar terrible examples of denials of serious medical care were also proven against CHC, including a CHC run jail in Tulsa where a prisoner who was complaining he had broken his neck and was paralyzed was diagnosed as merely suffering from “psychosomatic paralysis.” That patient tragically died untreated of a broken neck on a video after several days of CHC staff trying to prove he was faking his paralysis by leaving water out of reach to see if he would try to get it. Mr. McGill also proved that these customs and the deliberate indifference of the nurse were motivated by financial concerns to avoid hospitalizations for inmates. The contract between CHC and the Jefferson County Board of County Commissioners expressly provided that CHC would have to pay the first $50,000.00 for every patient sent to a
The case has since settled on a confidential basis.
The original Westword Cover story of his initial lawsuit can be read here: http://www.westword.com/news/ken-mcgill-left-jail-behind-but-he-cant-escape-the-stroke-he-suffered-there-5120378
TV and newspaper coverage of the verdict appears below: http://www.denverpost.com/2014/12/16/former-jefferson-county-inmate-awarded-11-million-after-stroke/
Picture from Westword Cover Story Art.