A postal worker's death in jail resulting from the City's failure to treat his alcohol withdrawal resulted in a $2 million settlement announced in Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York. Jonathan Chasan, a Supervising Attorney in The Legal Aid Society's Prisoners' Rights Project and a lawyer for the postal worker's family, told The New York Times that “there was a conspicuous failure to follow the requirements of the alcohol withdrawal protocol.” He said the case was important because the city’s jails “routinely admit inmates with drug and alcohol problems.” Mary Lynne Werlwas, an attorney in the Prisoners' Rights Project, also represented the family.
The New York TimesMay 25, 2011City Will Pay $2 Million After an Inmate’s DeathBy Benjamin Weiser
New York City has agreed to pay $2 million to settle a lawsuit alleging that a postal worker died in jail because his severe alcohol withdrawal went untreated.The agreement was announced this week in Federal District Court in Manhattan.
The former postal worker, Oswald Livermore, 51, was arrested in May 2007 and jailed in the Manhattan Detention Complex, known as the Tombs, after a dispute in which his wife barred him from their apartment because he had been drinking, a court opinion says.
The lawsuit contended that despite clear evidence Mr. Livermore had alcohol withdrawal — he had seemed agitated and disoriented, and admitted at the jail’s clinic that he drank two or three pints of rum a day — medical personnel there failed to follow a written protocol on treating severe alcohol withdrawal, which includes hospitalization.
Despite an initial medical evaluation and two subsequent referrals to the clinic, Mr.
Livermore was kept in the jail’s general population, the lawsuit says. He was pronounced dead about 28 hours after being placed in the jail, records show.
“There was a conspicuous failure to follow the requirements of the alcohol withdrawal protocol,” said a lawyer for Mr. Livermore’s family, Jonathan S. Chasan of the Legal Aid Society’s prisoners’ rights project. He said the case was important because the city’s jails “routinely admit inmates with drug and alcohol problems.”
Another of the family’s lawyers, Jonathan S. Abady, added, “It’s not at all clear that the city has taken adequate corrective action,” like offering additional training for workers on the protocol, “to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.”
In reaching the settlement, the city did not admit liability or wrongdoing.
“While we felt settlement was in the best interest of all parties,” said Kate O’Brien Ahlers, a spokeswoman for the city’s Law Department, “we continue to maintain that Mr. Livermore received appropriate care.”
Ms. Ahlers said she was speaking for the city’s Correction Department and the Health and Mental Hygiene Department, which is responsible for providing medical services in the city’s jails. Its spokeswoman added that workers receive training “regularly as warranted,” and “patients on detoxification protocols are closely monitored by medical staff.”
The three medical personnel cited in the suit were employees or contractors for a private company, Prison Health Services, which has a contract with the health agency to provide medical care in the jails. A spokesman for the company declined to comment.
In January, a federal judge, Naomi Reice Buchwald, denied the city’s request to dismiss the lawsuit, a civil rights action that accused medical personnel and correction officers of exhibiting “deliberate indifference” to Mr. Livermore’s condition.
The city argued in court papers that Mr. Livermore had received “several thorough medical and mental health evaluations and never manifested signs and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.” As a result, there was no reason for him to be placed in an infirmary setting, the city said.
But Judge Buchwald noted that three city and state agencies that investigated the Livermore death had faulted the performance of the medical personnel, with one agency, the State Commission of Correction, finding “a host of failures.”
The commission said in a December 2008 report that Mr. Livermore’s death “may have been prevented had he received timely medical diagnosis and treatment.”In her January opinion, Judge Buchwald did say that correction officers had appeared concerned about Mr. Livermore’s condition, adding that they twice brought him for medical examination, and alerted medical personnel to his erratic behavior.
The commission’s report recommended a review to determine whether improvements could be made in how “critical observations” are communicated among the staff.
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