Court: Ohio Prison Nurse Can Be Sued in Death

By | September 11, 2012

A prison nurse isn’t immune from being sued over an inmate’s 2009 death following a violent seizure from alcohol withdrawals, a federal appeals court panel ruled.

Nurse Jennifer McCune had sought immunity as a government employee in the death of Michael Reid at the Richland County jail in Mansfield in northern Ohio.

A lower court denied that request in July 2011, and a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati upheld that decision in its ruling.

“A reasonable jury could conclude that McCune acted with a perverse disregard for a risk under Ohio law,” the panel wrote, calling Reid’s death “tragic.”

McCune’s phone number wasn’t listed, and her Columbus attorney, Daniel Downey, didn’t immediately return a call for comment.

Reid was taken to the jail after he was arrested on April 2, 2009, on a probation violation for drinking alcohol; his blood-alcohol level was .35 percent, more than four times the legal limit, according to court records.

When he arrived at the jail, Reid was taken to McCune after he and his probation officers repeatedly alerted jail staff that Reid experiences seizures when he stops drinking, according to court records.

Although McCune first decided that Reid should be taken to a hospital after she found that he had a racing pulse and was dehydrated, she later approved him to be admitted into the jail instead and ordered that he be given medication once he started showing withdrawal symptoms, court records show.

A jail physician later testified that Reid should have been given medication within an hour of his arrival.

Reid never was given medication and had a seizure about 12 hours after he was booked into jail, hitting his head on a concrete bunk as he fell to the ground, according to court records. He was declared brain dead and taken off life support five days later.

In March 2010, Reid’s family sued McCune, other prison staff members, the jail itself and the county, alleging infringement of Reid’s constitutional rights, medical negligence and wrongful death.

With the exception of McCune, all the other individuals named in the lawsuit were later found to be immune from being sued because of their status as government employees.

McCune was denied that same immunity after a federal judge found that she had acted recklessly and with deliberate indifference by placing Reid in a concrete cell knowing that he would go into alcohol withdrawal and that there were no medications in the jail at the time to treat him.

The lawsuit seeks a minimum of $375,000.

Topics Lawsuits Ohio

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