Jury awards inmate paralyzed in Lee County jail $1.

2 million : Naples Daily News Page 1 of 5

Jury awards inmate paralyzed in Lee County
jail $1.2 million
By AISLING SWIFT

Originally published 01:15 p.m., March 18, 2011
Updated 10:23 p.m., March 18, 2011

FORT MYERS — Jurors deliberated roughly four hours today before awarding a North
Fort Myers man $1.2 million after he became paralyzed at the Lee County jail in 2007,
finding the jail's medical provider solely responsible.

As the verdict was announced in U.S. District Court in Fort Myers, 28-year-old Brett
Allen Fields Jr., bowed his head, looking upset, as his girlfriend and mother sat silently
behind him and his attorneys, Gregg Lauer and Dion Cassata of Fort Lauderdale.

Judge John Steele then excused the five-man, three-woman jury and defense attorney
Gregg Toomey, who represented Tennessee-based Prison Health Services, left with
Shawn Irving, the jail's medical administrator. Toomey declined comment.

Pat Nolan, a PHS spokesman, said in an email: "We are disappointed by the jury's
decision and we are evaluating our further legal options."

The award is a drop in the bucket for PHS, which had $635- to $645 million in
revenues in 2010, according to SEC documents presented to the jury.

Prison Health Services has been the target of lawsuits nationwide involving poor
medical care. Most obtained confidential settlements, while others accepted
multimillion dollar settlements involving deaths and babies with birth defects. Several
PHS lawsuits are pending involving the Collier and Lee jails.

Fields, who broke down crying Thursday as he told jurors about his "excruciating" pain
and how he became paralyzed, looked crestfallen as he left with his girfriend, Amanda
Duhamel, and mother, Toni Silvers. The once-healthy construction worker is
permanently disabled, but can now walk with a waddling, spastic gait; his feet need
braces and can't feel the ground.

He initially declined comment, but later said, "I'd like to personally thank my attorneys
for the amazing job they've done."

Lauer said they were happy with the verdict, which included $500,000 in punitive
damages, an award meant to punish wrongdoing and send a message to deter similar
conduct.

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"We're glad the citizens got to listen and come to a decision when (Fields) was ignored
by everyone else," Lauer said of medical personnel in the jail, including physician's
assistant Joseph Richards and nurse Bettie Joyce Allen, who were not found liable.
"Obviously, their verdict shows their behavior will not be tolerated."

The jury found PHS was deliberately indifferent to Fields' serious medical needs and its
acts were the proximate cause of his damage. They determined PHS should pay
$600,000 in damages for lost earnings in the past and future and past medical
expenses.

For PHS' deliberate indifference, jurors determined it should pay $100,000 for Fields'
physical pain and suffering, disability, physical impairment, disfigurement, mental
anguish, inconvenience, and loss of capacity for the enjoyment of life. They found PHS
acted with malice or reckless indifference to his federally protected rights, awarding
him $500,000 in punitive damages.

The verdict, which came after three days of testimony from 11 witnesses, including one
defense medical expert, was the culmination of Fields' 2009 lawsuit against PHS and
Richards, who left for another job, and Allen, 68, who retired.

During Lauer's closing arguments, he contended PHS employees took the easier,
cheaper route, instead of rushing 24-year-old Fields to a hospital.

"Could anything have been easier than Tylenol, less effective of Tylenol?" Lauer said
of Richards' prescription and decision to see Fields again in a week after Fields sat in a
wheelchair complaining of numbness and weakness in his legs and saying he couldn't
walk.

Fields' lawsuit alleged they ignored his pleas for help, beginning late the night of Aug.
7, 2007, when he rang the emergency call button "probably 100 times" and through
Aug. 9. 2007, when Allen had deputies drag him on a sheet to an observation cell,
where Fields waited until 10:30 a.m. to see a jail doctor, who arrived about two hours
before that.

Even though Dr. Noel Dominguez recommended Fields be taken to a hospital as soon
as possible, Lauer reminded jurors that didn't occur until two hours later. Dr. Jaime
Alvarez, a neurosurgeon who operated, testified that hindered his ability to reverse the
damage.

A Fort Lauderdale neurologist who testified as an expert by video said once the spinal
cord is damaged, it can't be repaired and the longer the delay, the more damage.

Testimony showed Fields spent eight months in wheelchair, a year on a walker,
working toward learning to walk with his girlfriend's help. She ended up becoming a
nurse. Fields has lost control of some bodily functions and has sexual problems.

Laur argued that Fields, who was booked into the jail on misdemeanor charges on July
6, 2007, tried to work through his growing pain, but it didn't go away. Lauer reminded

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jurors nurse Allen testified that PHS urged employees not to send inmates to a hospital
because it costs money and yelled at nurses if they did.

"He's crawling to the toilet at this point," Lauer said. "He can't walk. ... He hasn't used
the restroom in a while ... and he's completely numb."

Fields' insides came out of his rectum, Lauer said of the early morning hours of Aug. 9,
2007, adding, "He screamed for help. 'Please help me, please.' "

Lauer noted that inmates, lay people, the standard for jurors to consider, took that
seriously and begged for help, urging Allen not to let him die there.

"What do they do?," Lauer asked of Allen and deputies. "They drag him on a sheet to
an observation room."

Lauer said Fields begged for someone to help as he lay on the ground. "Don't let me
die here like this."

Lauer reminded jurors PHS is a multimillion-dollar corporation that makes more if it
cuts care.

"This is Prison Health Services' policy," Lauer argued, noting Allen called it a
"widespread practice" that PHS officials made clear in meetings.

He argued PHS employees didn't have to know he was suffering from a spinal epidural
abscess, just that he had a serious medical need. Even the inmates knew that, he said,
calling them lay people.

"If their bills go through the roof because of all of the bills for going to a hospital, a
competitor gets the next bid," Lauer said of PHS' fear it would lose the $950,000 jail
contract. "That's their incentive."

Toomey urged jurors not to be swayed by sympathy, reminding them it wasn't a
negligence case.

"To find nurse Allen or Richards liable, you have to find they were aware Mr. Fields had
a serious and significant medical problem when they saw him," Toomey said, noting if
jurors find that, they must then determine that they refused to provide medical care. "If
a layperson would know, then they would have to act."

He reminded jurors Fields had been in pain for days, but hadn't told any PHS
employees until about Aug. 8, 2007, and a day later, told Allen his insides had fallen
out. "She looked at his butt," he said, adding that Allen determined it was hemorrhoids,
which his expert called a good diagnosis.

He urged jurors not to blame PHS for the delay in sending Fields to a hospital, noting it
took hours for Fields to be operated on. He placed blame on hospital officials.

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He told jurors that to find PHS liable, they had to find it had a custom or policy that
violated Fields' constitutional rights.

POSTED EARLIER

The attorney for a former Lee County jail inmate partially paralyzed after pleading for
help at the jail told jurors even a lay person would have realized his medical needs
were serious when he begged for help and said he could no longer walk.

However, instead of rushing 24-year-old Brett Allen Fields Jr. to a hospital, employees
of the jail's medical provider, Prison Health Services, took the easier, cheaper route,
argued Greg Lauer to the U.S. District Court jury in Fort Myers,.

"Could anything have been easier than Tylenol, less effective of Tylenol?" Lauer said
of physician's assistant Joseph Richards' prescription and decision to see Fields again
in a week after Fields, a healthy construction worker, sat before him in a wheelchair
complaining of numbness in his legs and telling him he couldn't walk.

Lauer pointed out Richards saw Fields on a Wednesday, when he normally did lab
work, because he knew it was an emergency.

Fields sued Tennessee-based Prison Health Services, Richards and nurse Bettie
Joyce Allen, alleging they ignored his pleas for help, beginning late the night of Aug. 7,
2007, when he rang the emergency call button "probably 100 times" and begged for
help, and through Aug. 9. 2007, when Allen had him dragged on a sheet into an
observation room, where Fields waited until 10:30 a.m. to see the jail's doctor. And
even though the doctor recommended he be taken to a hospital as soon as possible,
Lauer pointed out he he wasn't transported until two hours later, a delay the surgeon
testified hindered his abilities to help him further.

Fields' August 2009 lawsuit alleges he was booked into the jail July 6, 2007, requested
medical attention two weeks later for a boil on his arm and was treated for infection.
The lawsuit says antibiotics didn't work, he complained and was ignored and after
stretching and cracking is back one day, a normal routine, he began to suffer
numbness and weakness in his legs, inability to urinate, and difficulty walking.

A surgeon tried to reverse the damage, but it was too late. He spent eight months in
wheelchair, a year on a walker and now walks with a spastic gait, unable to feel the
ground and having to use braces to support his ankles. He has to sit to urinate
because he'd lose control of other bodily functions, has sexual problems, and often
suffers excruciating pain.

Lauer gave his closing arguments after U.S. District Judge John Steele instructed the
jurors in the law on violations of Fields' constitutional rights, compensatory damages,
and punitive damages, which are meant to punish wrongdoing and deter others.

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Lauer reminded jurors that nurse Allen testified that Prison Health Services urged them
not to send inmates to a hospital because it costs money and yelled at nurses when
they did send an inmate.

"He's crawling to the toilet at this point," Lauer said of Fields. "He can't walk. ... He
hasn't used the restroom in a while ... and he's completely numb."

Fields' insides came out of his rectum, Lauer said, adding, "He screamed for help.
'Please help me, please. '"

Lauer noted that inmates, lay people, took that seriously, begging for help and urging
Allen not to let him die there. "He can't walk, he's paralyzed," Lauer said. "... What do
they do? They drag him on a sheet to an observation room. There's no observation. No
one looked at him."

Lauer reminded jurors Fields was screaming for help. "Somebody please help me.
Don't let me die here like this," Lauer said of Fields' pleas.

Lauer reminded jurors PHS is a multimillion-dollar corporation and it made more when
it cut costs to inmates. He read Allen's testimony in which she said at meetings,
nurses, doctors and medical personnel were told to avoid sending inmates to a hospital
and to leave that decision up to a doctor "because it costs Prison Health Services so
much."

"This is Prison Health Services' policy," Lauer argued, noting that jurors wouldn't find
any "smoking gun" policy outlining that, but that Allen said officials made that clear in
meetings.

"They are always fussing over us, yelling at nurses for sending inmates to the hospital,"
Lauer said, reading of Allen's testimony. "It's a widespread practice. You heard nurse
Allen say everybody knew it, everybody said it."

After Lauer's 1½-hour closing argument, jurors went to lunch Friday. They will hear
from defense attorney Gregg Toomey, then Lauer will give a rebuttal closing argument
before jurors begin deliberating. They heard three days of testimony from 10
witnesses, including one defense medical expert, before summations began today.

© 2011 Scripps Newspaper Group — Online

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