$3 Million Settlement For Detainee Who Died In Jail
A judge recently approved a $3 million settlement on behalf of the family of a man who died in jail. The family contended that their loved one was denied medical intervention even though he was showing clear signs of medical distress. Separate actions against a nurse and five prison guards, including criminal charges, are pending. The lawsuit contends that the prison guards had the plaintiff pinned on his stomach preventing him from breathing. The man had five children and a job in construction.
One nurse and five detention officers are facing charges of involuntary manslaughter. If you remember, those were the initial charges levied against Derek Chauvin until multiple riots forced prosecutors to seek murder charges. A grand jury declined to indict the officers, but the nurse still has involuntary manslaughter charges pending against her somehow. She is now the only person facing criminal charges for the death. The ruling means that she could also face civil liability for the death. In this regard, the officers are not out of the woods yet either because a grand jury failing to indict would not necessarily preclude a lawsuit filed directly against them. Qualified immunity, on the other hand, would. A jury would therefore have to find that the officers breached their duty or acted outside the scope of their duty in restraining the prisoner. In this case, the civil claims against the officers were dismissed with prejudice meaning they cannot be refiled. A finding that qualified immunity prevented the claims against the officers (but not the nurse) is generally the norm in these cases.
However, the most likely course of action is that the claim against the nurse is folded into the lawsuit against the private health care company providing medical services to the jail. That civil suit has yet to be decided. The civil case will have to wait until the criminal case is over. A finding of guilt would help the plaintiffs significantly.
A deeper look at the problem
There’s no legal reason to throw this nurse under the bus for the death of a man who was prevented from breathing by five others whom she had no control over. Further, it’s unclear that she could have intervened without the permission of the officers engaged in subduing the detainee. She lacked the authority to give any orders, so even if she jumped up and down and said, “you’re killing him!” it would not have mattered in the slightest.
This is a problem for the plaintiffs because the officers are protected by sovereign immunity as officials who are representatives of the state. However, contractors do not have the same protections and can be sued directly for negligence. Hence why the only surviving claim is against the individual who contributed the least amount of liability. Obviously, the defendant claims it’s a witch hunt and the state is looking for someone to take the fall. Ultimately, it’s difficult to imagine she will go to prison for manslaughter.
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