A woman in Minnesota is suing several registered nurses (RNs) over the death of her son, who died while in the custody of the Minnesota Department of Corrections (MDOC). The lawsuit alleges that a nurse employed by the prison withheld emergency medical care from her son, who had a history of seizures, because of “protocols” established by the private contractor hired to provide medical care for the state’s inmates.
Xavius Scullark-Johnson, age 27, was an inmate at the state prison in Rush City, Minnesota with only three months left on his sentence. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the prison has not had 24-hour medical staff since 2002. Doctors, all of whom are employed by health contractor Corizon, Inc., only work Monday through Friday until 4:00 p.m. Nurses at the prison are state employees who work seven days a week, but their shifts end at 10:30 p.m. Corizon and MDOC closely monitor all medical-related expenses, including ambulance trips.
Scullark-Johnson reportedly suffered multiple seizures during the evening of June 28. An on-duty nurse, Linda Andrews, found him on the floor of his cell, “soaked in urine” and “in an altered state of consciousness.” She covered him and left orders to the guards to check on him regularly. Several hours later, a guard called the on-call doctor, Sharyn Barney, informing her that Scullark-Johnson had a seizure the previous evening, and that his cellmate could not wake him. She reportedly advised the guard to monitor him overnight and report his condition to the medical staff in the morning. No one had access to Scullark-Johnson’s medical records at the time because the prison health center was closed for the night. The guard called Barney again several hours later, and the doctor agreed that the guard should call for an ambulance.
An ambulance crew arrived at 5:39 a.m., but a nurse on duty, Denise Garin, allegedly refused to sign off on transporting Scullark-Johnson to the hospital. Garin’s report of the incident describes the inmate as “alert,” but the ambulance crew apparently reported a very different impression of his condition. The ambulance left the prison without a patient at 6:07 a.m. Garin reportedly found Scullark-Johnson face down in his bunk about half an hour later. A new ambulance arrived shortly afterwards but was not able to revive him. He was pronounced dead on June 30 at the hospital. The cause of death was determined to be a seizure disorder.
Olivia Scullark, Scullark-Johnson’s mother, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota on June 25, 2012, naming Garin, Andrews, and several others as defendants. She alleged civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, including cruel and unusual punishment, due process violations, and equal protection violations under the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The laws governing medical malpractice could also apply to the case, since the on-duty nurse allegedly improperly overruled a doctor’s treatment order, but since the defendants are state employees, a civil rights claims may help the plaintiff overcome sovereign immunity defenses.
The lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen are skilled at pursuing justice for people in Maryland injured due to the negligence or malpractice of medical professionals. Contact us today online, or call (800) 654-1949 for a free and confidential consultation.
Complaint (PDF), Olivia Scullark v. Denise Garin, R.N., et al, U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota, June 25, 2012
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