Final Verdict: Failed Finger Fracture
Prison infirmaries are often overworked and short-staffed, but that shouldn’t excuse medical negligence. An incarcerated person still has rights, including the right to access medical treatment, and they are often at the mercy of the prison doctors in getting access to the treatment they need. When the prison staff refuses to let inmates get the necessary treatment, the effects can be permanent and serious.
Twenty-nine-year-old John Kinlaw was incarcerated at a low-security prison in Victoria, Virginia when he suffered a broken finger during recreational activities. The prison medical staff splinted the fracture but refused to investigate further or listen to Kinlaw’s complaints of continued pain and inability to move his hand. The medical staff wanted to delay Kinlaw’s treatment until after he was discharged, at which point they would no longer be responsible for his medical care.
Unfortunately, the bone had splintered, leaving a fragment that was lodged between the digits in Kinlaw’s hand. As the fracture healed, the fragment became fixed, making it impossible for Kinlaw to close that finger. Despite multiple requests for further treatment, the prison disregarded his concerns until it was too late.
Four months after the injury, Kinlaw finally received a consultation with an orthopedist, whose evaluation of a CT scan revealed the extent of the injury. Even so, surgery was not scheduled for another three months. Even after surgery, additional treatment, physical therapy, and another surgical procedure was required in attempts to restore function. Kinlaw was working to turn his life around and was in school to become an aviation technician, a career requiring dexterity and hand strength, and the lack of prompt medical care forever impacted his ability to seek employment in the field.
Kinlaw sued for medical malpractice, arguing that the delays in medical treatment caused him permanent injuries. His attorney asked for a jury trial. In front of the jury, even the defense expert admitted that the damage to Kinlaw’s hand would have been fixed if he had received surgical intervention within three weeks of the accident. Instead, the prison doctor waited for six weeks before considering any other treatment.
Notably, the prison wasn’t responsible for Kinlaw’s injuries. However, their lack of action and breach of the standard of care made them liable for his lost opportunity to get the treatment he needed. Because Kinlaw was dependent on the prison, he had no way to seek a second opinion or get outside treatment. In fact, the surgery itself was only approved after Kinlaw’s parents wrote to the prison warden and the Virginia Department of Corrections, who intervened on his behalf.
After four days of trial, the jury agreed that Kinlaw’s injuries were the result of medical malpractice on the part of the prison. They found that the prison doctor’s failure to refer, failure to treat, delay in treatment, and failure to communicate were egregious enough to demand a large award. Accordingly, on July 18, 2019, the prison found the prison liable for damages of $1,333,671, including over half a million dollars in punitive damages. A medical attorney like Cohen & Cohen can help.