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Inadequate Medical Care Case Settlement Reached Against Prison Health Provider

On the fourth day of a federal trial in which attorneys Mark W. Tanner and Peter M. Newman represented a female prisoner whose leg was amputated due to inadequate prison medical care, the medical care provider, PrimeCare Medical, Inc., agreed to settle the case for $850K which was more than four times the amount of the highest offer they had made prior to trial. PrimeCare is a private for-profit company that provides medical care to inmates in the Berks County, Pennsylvania Prison.

Shortly before her incarceration, the plaintiff, who was diabetic, had bypass surgery on her right leg to treat a condition known as peripheral vascular disease that caused blockages in the arteries of her legs. Her vascular surgeon was planning to perform bypass surgery on her left leg and she had an appointment to see him on April 21, but was incarcerated on April 18. The defendant nurses cancelled this follow-up appointment without speaking to the surgeon. By the time the defendant nurse first examined plaintiff’s left foot on April 21, it was cold, discolored, and pulseless. Notwithstanding these findings, the nurse took no action other than to order copies of the plaintiff’s medical records. Plaintiff’s experts testified that the defendant nurse failed to recognize the obvious signs and symptoms of a serious circulatory problem and that the defendant nurse should have contacted the treating vascular surgeon immediately or asked the prison doctor to examine the plaintiff.

Over the next nine days, the plaintiff’s pain increased, the toes turned from purple to black, with open, oozing ulcers, and the great toe nail fell off. Finally, on April 30, the plaintiff was seen for the first time by the prison doctor, who recognized the emergency and rushed the plaintiff to the hospital where the vascular surgeon attempted unsuccessfully to save her leg. Prison records confirmed that the plaintiff completed a Sick Call request on April 22 for severe burning pain in her left foot, but was not examined by the PrimeCare nurse or seen by the prison doctor, who was available at the facility on the 23 and the 28.

At trial, plaintiff sought to recover under 28 U.S.C. Section 1983 for violation of her Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, and presented evidence to establish that PrimeCare nurses had exhibited deliberate indifference to the plaintiff’s serious medical need. Plaintiff also made a claim for medical negligence. The defendants vigorously defended the case and were prepared to present experts to contest liability and causation, but after hearing plaintiff’s evidence, including the testimony of plaintiff’s experts in prison medicine and vascular surgery, and at the urging of the trial judge, the defendants settled the case.