Prisoner Scores $11M Verdict
It’s true that prisoners don’t often make good clients. The jury is automatically prone to distrusting them or even believing that they deserve whatever happens to them. Yet prisoners are among the most vulnerable populations when it comes to receiving medical care. Today, it is much more likely that states, in an effort to reduce costs, outsource their medical services to private companies that are often more interested in reducing costs than they are treating conditions. In one case, this severely backfired.
An Illinois jury found Wexford Health Sources, Inc. liable to the tune of $11 million after failing to diagnose a prisoner’s cancer until it had turned terminal. The plaintiff argued that Wexford Health was deliberately indifferent to the patient’s rights and committed both institutional negligence and medical malpractice. The prisoner, who now has terminal kidney cancer, was awarded $1 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages.
In December of 2015, the prisoner reported that there was blood in his urine at the Taylorville Correctional Center. Nearly a year later, the prisoner had to have his kidney removed in a nine-hour surgery that also involved the removal of a tumor near a vein to his heart.
The delay in treatment stemmed from a “collegial review” that required a physician to sign off on certain procedures. The plaintiff argued that this policy was instituted to reduce costs to Wexford Health. In the end, the jury agreed with the plaintiff and awarded him $10 million in punitive damages.
Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages are not meant to compensate a victim but rather to punish a defendant. The jury sent a strong message to Wexford that their policy is putting prisoners at risk.
Even as prisoners lose some of their rights after being convicted of a crime, the state still has a responsibility to take care of them. This includes providing food, water, plumbing, and medical services. When the state outsources medical services to a third-party vendor like Wexford, the third party takes on any liability for failing to provide those services.
Wexford signed a $1.36 billion contract with Illinois Department of Corrections to provide medical services to inmates. However, those inmates are not their primary concern. Their shareholders are. And of course, this business is operated for profit and funded by taxpayers.
While it may seem like a conflict of interest to hold the interests of their shareholders above the interests of their patients, this particular conundrum is playing itself out all across the country, sometimes with horrific results.
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