By Matt Clarke
On October 24, 2012, a federal jury in Texas awarded $2.25 million to the estate and survivors of a prisoner who died at a facility operated by LCS Corrections Services (LCS), after finding the company was 100% at fault. The district court subsequently reversed its dismissal of § 1983 claims against LCS and granted a new trial as to those claims.
Mario A. Garcia was incarcerated at the Brooks County Detention Center (BCDC) in Falfurrias, Texas, owned and operated by LCS, when he died of a seizure on January 12, 2009. After Garcia was booked into BCDC, his wife delivered a supply of clonazepam, a prescription anti-anxiety medication he had been using for years, to the facility. BCDC officials received the medication but did not give it to Garcia because they allegedly had a policy of refusing to allow prisoners to take any controlled substances, even bona fide prescription medications.
Garcia began shaking badly later that day. He was taken to the emergency room, treated and returned to BCDC. The prison’s contract physician, Dr. Michael Pendleton, saw Garcia twice – the last time on January 8, 2009. After the second visit with Dr. Pendleton, Garcia’s condition deteriorated rapidly; he was admitted to the prison’s medical unit with uncontrollable shaking on January 10 and remained there until he had a seizure and died two days later.
Garcia’s estate, widow, son and parents filed a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in federal court that alleged failure to provide adequate medical care plus state law claims of wrongful death and gross negligence. Garcia’s father died a few months prior to trial, after which his mother agreed to a confidential settlement.
The district court had previously dismissed the § 1983 claims against LCS, finding that because Garcia was a federal prisoner the company was acting under color of federal law – and § 1983 claims only apply to deprivations of rights under color of state law.
At trial on the plaintiffs’ remaining claims, experts testified that Garcia could have been saved had he been taken to a hospital on January 10, and might not have had the seizure at all had he not been denied his medication. LCS named Dr. Pendleton as a responsible third party and claimed he was 75% at fault. The jury found that neither Pendleton nor Garcia was at fault, but rather LCS was 100% responsible for Garcia’s death.
The jury awarded Garcia’s estate $500,000 for personal injury and past pain and suffering. His widow received a total of $500,000 in damages, and the jury awarded Garcia’s son $1.25 million for loss of companionship and mental anguish. The total award against LCS was $2.25 million plus prejudgment interest at a rate of 5%.
On March 25, 2013, Garcia’s widow filed a motion for a new trial on the § 1983 claims that had been dismissed, noting that another federal court in the Southern District of Texas had found LCS was a state actor because it derived its authority to operate a prison from the State of Texas, even though the facility housed federal prisoners.
The district court agreed, reversing its dismissal of the § 1983 claims and granting the motion for a new trial as to those claims against LCS. The new trial remains pending; the plaintiffs are represented by Corpus Christi attorneys Craig Henderson and Kathryn A. Snapka. See: Garcia v. LCS Corrections Services, U.S.D.C. (S.D. Tex.), Case No. 2:11-cv-00004.
Additional source: www.verdictsearch.com
(Published by Prison Legal News; used by permission)