Corrections officials win inmate suit

A federal judge on Tuesday ruled in favor of two state prison officials who were sued for their alleged roles in the 2003 death of a Delaware prison inmate.

Louis W. Chance Jr.’s family filed a lawsuit in 2005 claiming the officials ignored Chance’s complaints about severe headaches in the weeks leading up to his death due to cryptococcal meningitis. But on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson ruled in favor of former Department of Correction Commissioner Stan Taylor and Joyce Talley, chief of management services, saying there was no evidence of gross negligence and no evidence either official was responsible for his death.

“First, there is no record evidence demonstrating that either defendant was involved in or even knew of Chance during the events in dispute,” Robinson wrote in her 10-page opinion. While Chance’s experts allege his health care “constituted gross negligence,” Robinson said they were not able to link that to Taylor and Talley’s actions or conduct.

“It’s obviously disappointing to our clients,” said Chance’s family’s attorney, Jeffrey K. Bartels, adding that they will file an appeal.

The state DOC came under federal scrutiny shortly after a series of articles in The New Journal pointed out problems with prison health care, high inmate death rates and meningitis inside the prison.

Chance, 37, was serving a six-month sentence for drunken driving at the Webb Center, a work-release facility near Prices Corner, when he developed a severe headache. He was given Excedrin and Motrin, according to a pending medical malpractice lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court against the state and First Correctional Medical, Delaware’s medical provider at the time.

After several days, a corrections officer reported Chance was confused and had possibly “overdosed.” Chance was transferred to Young Correctional Institution, where, his attorney said, the pressure inside his head from cryptococcal meningitis affected his hearing.

Unable to respond to nurses, Chance was reported to be disoriented, uncooperative and hostile. Officers subdued him, put him in a straitjacket and left him in a cell under suicide watch. Chance, who had not been examined by a doctor, was prescribed Ativan, Benadryl and Haldol. The drugs are used to treat panic attacks, allergies and psychosis, respectively. Together, they can calm a person.

About three days later, Dr. Niranjana Shah, a contract physician with First Correctional Medical working at Young Correctional, prescribed Tylenol and a daily cup of coffee because, Chance’s medical records state, caffeine helps combat headaches. On Sept. 18, 2003, Chance was sent back to the Webb facility.

Five days later, he died — seven days short of his release.

Chance’s family reached a settlement last year with First Correctional Medical and two physicians.

“But you have to understand this, First Correctional Medical basically had no assets,” said Bartels, adding that the medical provider cancelled the insurance on the doctors. “There was a limited pool of money to look to settle the claim against those doctors.”



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