Attorneys announced an $8.3 million settlement today in a wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of the family of an inmate who died in the custody of the Alameda County jail system in 2010.
Haddad & Sherwin, an Oakland-based civil rights law firm representing Martin Harrison’s family, argued that Harrison died after being shot with a Taser stun gun and beaten by sheriff’s deputies at Santa Rita Jail while going through delirium tremens, a medical condition associated with alcohol withdrawals.
The suit named Alameda County and Corizon Health, a health care provider specializing in jails and prisons, as defendants. They will pay $8.3 million in restitution to Harrison’s four adult children.
The family’s attorneys called it the largest single wrongful death civil rights settlement in California history.
The attorneys alleged that during Harrison’s intake medical assessment in August 2010, he told an unsupervised licensed vocational nurse employed by Corizon Health that he had a history of alcoholism and alcohol withdrawals.
She chose not to put Harrison on alcohol withdrawal protocols, sending him into the general population without medical supervision. Three days later, he went into severe alcohol withdrawal, began hallucinating and had the altercation with the deputies, according to the attorneys.
Under California law, the vocational nurse was not qualified to do intake medical assessments without the supervision of a registered nurse. Corizon pays vocational nurses 35 percent less than registered nurses and allowed the vocational nurses to perform tasks they were not legally qualified to handle as part of a bid to cut costs, the attorneys said.
“Our hope is that Corizon will embrace this reform and comply with the law in all the states,” attorney Julia Sherwin said. “And yes, some of us taxpayers are going to have to pay more so that inmates can have health care that complies with the law.”
As part of the settlement, Corizon will stop assigning vocational nurses to tasks that require the attention of a registered nurse under California state law. Corizon has an 8-year, $250 million contract with Alameda County and also has contracts with Santa Barbara, Tulare County and Fresno counties, the attorneys said.
Neither the Alameda County Sheriff’s office nor Corizon Health could be reached for comment this afternoon. They have announced a joint news conference at 5 p.m. in Oakland in response to the settlement.