When we think of common targets of a medical malpractice claim, we often think of hospitals or individual physicians responsible for making medical mistakes. However, there are a wide variety of institutions in the United States which provide medical care and therefore own a standard of care to their patients. This can include places such as rehab centers, and, in a case making headlines this week, correctional institutions.
Thirty-two-year-old John Kinlaw was an inmate at the Lunenburg Correctional Center in 2017 when he fractured a finger bone in the prison recreation yard. He claims that, despite the fact that an X-Ray was conducted which showed that he would need surgery, medical staff only provided basic care, and he was not permitted to see a specialist until months after the injury. He later filed a medical malpractice suit against Armor Correctional Health Services Inc., the organization contracted to provide medical services to inmates at Lunenburg.
According to his complaint, after the injury, medical staff only provided him with an ice pack and Motrin, ignoring the X-Ray findings. Mr. Kinlaw claimed that he made numerous appeals to the doctor and several nurses at the correctional facility, stating that he did not think his hand was healing properly, and attempting to demonstrate warning signs such as the fact that he could not bend his ring finger, nor could he completely close his hand. He claimed that the medical staff declined to provide any further treatment or to conduct any additional imaging.
Mr. Kinlaw was forced to wait over 100 days to see a specialist, who confirmed his hand healed wrong. He testified at trial that he will now have to undergo an amputation in order to regain some level of dexterity in his hand.
Attorneys representing the defendants argued the medical staff had done nothing wrong and the care Kinlaw received was completely appropriate and consistent with the care that he would have received if he was being seen by a private physician.
However, the jury did not agree. They found in favor of the plaintiff, Mr. Kinlaw, who was awarded a total settlement of $1,058,761, with $700,000 of that amount in compensatory damage and over $300,000 in punitive damages.
'Compensatory damages' refers to money awarded to a plaintiff in order to compensate him or her for the loss which has been suffered. Punitive damages are intended to punish a defendant for wrongdoing and to attempt to correct the future behavior of the particular plaintiff and other entities or individuals who may be in a similar position. For example, in this case, the jury could be attempting to punish the correctional institution for withholding adequate medical care from inmates and creating a financial incentive to administer appropriate care in the future.