Montgomery v. State of Washington DOC

Case type:  Medical Negligence, Government Liability, Wrongful Death
Award:  $1 million Settlement
Attorneys:  Jack Connelly

Case Summary

Plaintiff Phillip, age 32, became ill with Hepatitis C while incarcerated at defendant Department of Corrections (DOC) McNiel Island facilities. His condition became serious, marked by fever, constipation, weakness, abdominal pain and spontaneous peritonitis, worsening until he was bedridden. Ignoring his obvious need for medical attention, staff at McNeil Island did not send him to medical facilities. Defendant DOC's staff acted negligently toward Plaintiff Phillip and his serious medical condition, causing him not to recieve proper and timely medical treatment. Though there is a specific DOC policy requiring family members to be notified in the case of serious illness, plaintiff Phillip's family was never notified. Plaintiff Phillip died shortly after being tranferred to St. Joseph's hospital after nursing staff at McNeil Island finally decided that his condition needed to be addressed by qualified medical professionals.

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Case Details

Plff Phillip, male age 32 at time of death. Plffs, daughters Grace and Paullina, 11 and 9 years of age. Def. Department of Corrections' (DOC) McNeil Island's infirmary was labeled a “ticking time bomb” by the Nursing Union who filed repeated grievances about the dangers of Def.'s infirmary. Def. State of Washington's Department of Health concurred with this opinion of Def. DOC's infirmary in four separate audits from 1997-1999 which showed repeated violations of Def. State's healthcare polices which left Def. DOC's McNeil Island a danger to inmates as well as the staff members working there. Def. DOC's McNeil Island turned a blind eye to these audits and did nothing to remedy the problems and Def. State was forced to close the infirmary and was supposed to be referring inmates with serious health issues and emergent medical problems to private facilities. This was not occurring. Plff Phillip, decedent, met the requirements for treatment of his Hepatitis C but Def. DOC never treated him and Phillip died on 9/7/99, as a result of untreated spontaneous peritonitis secondary to Hepatitis C. Plff's estate contended that a week prior to his death, Plaintiff decedent suffered from fever, constipation, weakness, and abdominal pain which worsened until he was finally bedridden. Despite pleas from his cellmate to Def. DOC's McNeil Island's staff, the decedent was not seen by a physician. On the evening of 9/6/99, the decedent was finally seen by a nurse in the infirmary at Def. DOC's McNeil Island who described the decedent's condition over the phone to a physician's assistant on duty. The nurse followed the physician's assistant's telephonic order to draw blood and obtain “stat” tests. Plff, decedent was given two 2 liters of saline via IV and was only able to produce a dark, viscous emission - clear signs that his kidneys were failing. Despite these and other symptoms, the Plff was ordered by the physician (who was at a hotel room in SeaTac giving telephonic orders) to return to his cell. It could not be proven by the Defs. that anyone, nurse or physician, even reviewed the blood test results. The nurse and the physician's assistant on duty disputed what information was relayed to the physician's assistant when he ordered Plff back to his cell, but both the Defs. agreed in deposition that Plff did not receive appropriate medical care at Def. DOC's McNeil Island. By approximately 10:00 a.m. the next morning, Plff's breath began rattling in his chest, he had a chalky appearance and he was floating in and out of consciousness. Plff's roommate again pleaded with Def. DOC's correction officers to get Plff the medical help he needed. Plff's roommate also called the decedent's mother and asked her to do whatever she could to get help for her son because he was dying. A guard saw that Plff was dying and called the infirmary. Plffs contended that Def. DOC's nurse on duty refused to see the Plff, decedent. Def.'s guard went to a supervisor who finally prevailed on the medical staff to see the dying prisoner. Plff was finally carried to the infirmary by his cellmates to be seen. When Plff arrived at the infirmary, Def. Medical Director Thomas Luckey immediately ordered that Plff be transported off the island to a full service hospital, St. Joseph's Medical Center. Once there, medical staff did what they could to keep Plff alive but his condition gradually worsened. The nursing staff at St. Joseph's asked guards if the family could be notified of Plff's grave condition, but when the guards called back to Def. DOC's McNeil Island to get permission, they were told that Plff's family could not be notified (despite a DOC policy which specifically states that family is to be notified in the event of “serious illness”). Plff Phillip died at 10:30 p.m. that evening, his family less than three blocks away at their church having never been notified.