$8.3 Million for Jail Death -- Largest Wrongful Death Civil Rights Settlement in California State History

After over four years of litigation and finishing the first week of a 10 week trial, Alameda County and Corizon Health, Inc., a national for-profit jail health care corporation, have ended a wrongful death civil rights case by agreeing to pay $8.3 million dollars to the four adult children of Martin Harrison. Mr. Harrison was Tased and beaten to death while he was in life-threatening Delirium Tremens caused by Corizon’s failure to provide medical care to him at the Santa Rita Jail in August 2010. Corizon and the County also agreed to sweeping reforms (injunctive relief), to be overseen by the Judge Jon S. Tigar of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, to correct fundamental failures that led to Mr. Harrison’s unnecessary death. Corizon agreed to implement major changes in how it staffs jails throughout the entire state as a part of this settlement. The lawsuit revealed that Corizon allows uncredentialed Licensed Vocational Nurses to do the intake medical assessments only Registered Nurses are allowed to do under California law. When Mr. Harrison was arrested and taken to jail, he told the Corizon LVN that he drinks every day, his last drink was that day, and he has a history of alcohol withdrawal. The LVN decided not to provide Mr. Harrison with life-saving alcohol withdrawal protocols, and she sent him to the general jail population with no medical follow-up. Three days later, Mr. Harrison went into severe alcohol withdrawal -- Delirium Tremens – was having hallucinations, and was Tased and beaten to death by deputies. One of the family’s attorneys, Michael Haddad, said, “After jail deputies beat and Tased their father to death, Martin Harrison’s children beat them in court to win the largest wrongful death settlement in a civil rights case in California history.” Haddad also said, “It was very important for us to stop Corizon from endangering jail inmates by staffing California jails with unqualified nurses.” Haddad’s partner, Julia Sherwin, said, “This settlement is going to change the business of correctional medicine around the country. If California inmates are entitled to have Registered Nurses -- and not unqualified LVN’s -- do the work of RN’s then so are inmates in Arizona, Florida, Alabama, New York, Michigan, and every other state where Corizon has contracts.” Sherwin also said, “Corizon failed Martin Harrison. His legacy is to make sure Corizon does not fail other people who suffer from serious health conditions like alcohol dependence. Martin’s family was committed to making sure his death was not in vain, and they succeeded completely.” After four years of litigation, Haddad & Sherwin were joined at trial by co-counsel, Rick Friedman, of Friedman - Rubin, from Bremerton, Washington.

Contact us to learn more about this case or to receive a free case evaluation.

Related Headlines
  • California's Million Dollar Settlements 2015
    The Recorder, June 1, 2016

    Haddad & Sherwin LLP is recognized for achieving the largest settlement in a California civil rights case in 2015.

  • Settlement Order - Jail Medical Care
    United States District Court, Northern District of California, February 27, 2015

    This is the Stipulation and Order of Settlement requiring Corizon to staff ALL California jails with RN's instead of uncredentialed LVN's, and for Alameda County to train its deputies on drug and alcohol withdrawal and other medical emergencies. Along with the largest civil rights/wrongful death settlement in California history ($8.3 million), this is the legacy of Martin Harrison, beloved father, who died needlessly for jaywalking and alcoholism. May many others live and love in peace.

  • 'We got put in a very difficult spot,' Sheriff Ahern said, because the county faced the risk of an 'exorbitant' judgment if it did not settle.
    Yahoo News, February 11, 2015

    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - One of the largest U.S. for-profit prison healthcare providers has agreed to change how it staffs California jails, part of a settlement announced on Tuesday that ends a wrongful death lawsuit against the company. Corizon Health, a privately held firm which services more than 345,000 inmates in 27 states, was sued in 2011 after an inmate in Alameda County, California, outside San Francisco, died in jail. The inmate's family accused Corizon of failing to properly diagnose the inmate, who suffered from alcohol withdrawal and was allegedly beaten by guards. Corizon and Alameda County also agreed to pay $8.3 million, which the attorneys called the largest single civil rights wrongful death settlement in state history. ... "We got put in a very difficult spot," Ahern said, because the county faced the risk of an "exorbitant" judgment if it did not settle. "Things could have been done better and we are very sad it resulted in an inmate death."

  • Prison Health Provider Agrees to Changes in California
    Reuters, New York Times, February 10, 2015

    SAN FRANCISCO - One of the largest U.S. for-profit prison healthcare providers has agreed to change how it staffs California jails, part of a settlement announced on Tuesday that ends a wrongful death lawsuit against the company. Corizon Health, a privately-held firm which services over 345,000 inmates in 27 states, was sued in 2011 after an inmate in Alameda County, Calif. outside San Francisco died in jail. The inmate's family accused Corizon of failing to properly diagnose the inmate, who suffered from alcohol withdrawal and was allegedly beaten by guards. ... As part of the Corizon settlement announced on Tuesday, the company will stop using licensed vocational nurses to do the work of registered nurses, according to attorneys for the inmate's family. For every LVN that did the work of an RN, Corizon saved 35 percent in costs, attorneys Michael Haddad and Julia Sherwin said in a statement. The settlement currently impacts Corizon contracts in four California counties, though the company intends to grow in the state, the attorneys said. Corizon and Alameda County also agreed to pay $8.3 million, which the attorneys called the largest single wrongful death settlement in state history.

  • Alameda County: $8.3 million jail death settlement mandates jail health care reforms
    Malaika Fraley, Oakland Tribune, February 10, 2015

    OAKLAND -- A record-breaking settlement over the death of an Oakland man who died after being beaten and Tased by Santa Rita Jail deputies requires better health care in Alameda County jails and is projected to set a higher standard of care in jails and prisons nationwide. "Martin Harrison's legacy will be safer care for jail and prison inmates around the country," said Julia Sherwin of Haddad & Sherwin. "His family ... was committed to making sure that Martin's death was not in vain. They have succeeded completely." ... The correctional health care reforms mandated in the settlement will be monitored for at least four years by federal Judge Jon S. Tiger and will apply to Corizon's contracts at jails in Santa Barbara, Fresno, and Tulare counties. ... "When they comply with the law in California every other inmate in states where they have different contracts like Arizona or Alabama, New York or Michigan ... are also entitled to have nursing care that complies with the law ...," Sherwin said. The $8.3 million award is the largest civil rights wrongful death settlement in California's history, surpassing a $5 million settlement awarded last year to the family of an unarmed man shot and killed by Los Angeles police, according to the plaintiffs' attorneys. ... "We wanted what happened to our dad to have a bigger meaning and he's not just another person who lost his life in the system," Harrison's eldest daughter, Tiffany Harrison said.

  • Alameda County, Jail Health Care Company Settle Suit Over Inmate Beating Death
    Alex Emslie, KQED News, February 10, 2015

    The Alameda County Board of Supervisors approved an $8.3 million settlement today over the 2010 in-custody death of a man at Santa Rita Jail. The settlement also includes statewide changes to health care by Corizon Health Inc., a private company, and new training for Alameda County sheriff’s deputies. On Aug. 16, 2010, Martin Harrison died after a struggle with several deputies during which he was beaten and shocked repeatedly with Tasers. A civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Harrison’s family alleged a Corizon Health licensed vocational nurse failed to properly classify Harrison to be monitored for severe alcohol withdrawal when he was processed into Santa Rita Jail in Dublin. California law requires registered nurses to assess inmates at intake, and Corizon agreed to change staffing at correctional facilities throughout the state in the settlement, according to attorneys for Harrison’s family. ... “It was very important for us to stop Corizon from endangering jail inmates by staffing California jails with unqualified nurses,” Oakland civil rights attorney Michael Haddad said. “After jail deputies beat and Tasered their father to death, Martin Harrison’s children beat them in court to win the largest wrongful death settlement in a civil rights case in California history.” Alameda County and Corizon will split the settlement cost, as they did in a $1 million settlement with Harrison’s youngest son in 2013. Julia Sherwin, another attorney for Harrison’s family, said Alameda County had agreed to new health training for all sheriff’s deputies who have contact with inmates. She said the training includes how to recognize the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal so they can summon immediate medical treatment. While the settlement agreement applies only to California, Sherwin said the RN requirement could spread to other states where Corizon provides inmate health care.

  • $8.3 million settlement in death of Alameda County inmate
    Henry K. Lee, San Francisco Chronicle, February 10, 2015

    Alameda County and a company that provides health care to jail inmates agreed to pay $8.3 million to settle a federal lawsuit filed by the four adult children of an inmate who died in 2010 after sheriff’s deputies stunned him with Tasers during a confrontation. The county and Corizon Health Inc., the health care contractor at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, will split the costs of the payout in connection with the death of Martin Harrison, a 50-year-old Oakland resident who died while in the midst of alcohol withdrawal. ... The deal, reached after the first week of the family’s civil trial, is the largest wrongful death settlement in a civil rights case in state history, according to the family’s attorneys. Under the settlement, Corizon agreed to implement changes in how it staffs jails throughout the state, including in facilities in Santa Barbara, Tulare and Fresno counties, said the family’s attorneys, Michael Haddad and Julia Sherwin. The terms of the deal will be enforced for four years by U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar in San Francisco. ... Haddad said Corizon, in a bid to cut costs, endangered jail inmates by hiring licensed vocational nurses instead of registered nurses. Although Martin Harrison had told a Corizon nurse he had a history of alcohol withdrawal, the nurse failed to treat him properly, and Harrison went into “severe alcohol withdrawal” before dying at the hands of deputies, Haddad said. ... Sheriff Greg Ahern said, “We’re going to change the level of expertise by the nursing staff. I think we’re going to have the nursing staff provide training to our deputies so that we could identify these types of situations and prevent these things from occurring in the future.” The county’s next contract with Corizon, Ahern said, will include inmate screening “at the (registered nurse) level.”

  • Corizon, Alameda County pay $8.3 million to settle jail death lawsuit
    National Union of HealthCare Workers, NUHW, February 10, 2015

    Alameda County and Corizon Health, Inc., the for-profit corporation that contracts with the county to provide heathcare services for inmates at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin and the Glenn Dyer Detention Center in Oakland, agreed Monday to the largest civil rights wrongful death settlement in California history. ... Under the terms of the statewide injunction stemming from the Alameda County case, Corizon, which bills itself as the nation’s “biggest and best” correctional healthcare provider, must implement major changes in how it staffs jails throughout California. The lawsuit revealed that Corizon was using licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) to do the intake medical assessments that state law requires be performed by registered nurses (RNs) or by an LVN working under the supervision of an RN or a physician. This illegal staffing policy saved Corizon about thirty-five percent in labor costs while putting inmates at risk. ... The injunction, which also requires Alameda County to train its correctional officers to recognized signs and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, will be overseen for four years by Judge Jon S. Tigar of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. “This settlement is going to change the business of correctional medicine around the country,” said Julia Sherwin of Haddad & Sherwin, the Oakland civil rights law firm representing the Harrison family. “If California inmates are entitled to have RNs do the work of RNs, then so are inmates in Arizona, Florida, Alabama, New York, Michigan, and every other state where Corizon has contracts.”