Jury Awards Nearly $8 Million in Veterans 2012 Death
Jury Awards Nearly $8 Million in Federal Case Against Nassau County and its Medical Provider, Armor, in a Veteran's 2012 Death
On April 12, 2017, following one day of deliberations, a federal jury in Central Islip found Nassau County jail's medical provider-Armor Correctional Health Services-and Nassau County negligent on April 12, 2017, awarding nearly $8 million to the surviving family of a combat veteran who hanged himself and died at Nassau County's jail in 2012. Nick Warywoda of Parker Waichman represents the family; the civil case was heard in the United States District Court in Central Islip and began on April 3, 2016, according to a Newsday report.
Bartholomew Ryan, 32 years old at the time of his death, was a former decorated Marine who was incarcerated in 2012 over driving while under the influence of drugs. The death of the former Marine followed his struggles with drug addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after he returned from his Iraq War service. Sergeant Ryan's drug abuse began after his taking prescription painkillers due to a service injury he suffered while in boot camp. He also suffered from bipolar disorder, anxiety, and depression. His family said he returned from eight months of combat a different person following his military service from 2003 to 2007. "Mentally, he changed, due to what he experienced and saw," Mr. Warywoda said. "If they had just listened to that form that deemed him a suicide risk, we wouldn't be here today," Nicholas Warywoda noted during the trial, according to Newsday
Former Sergeant Ryan, a 1998 East Meadow High School graduate, from Long Island, New York, was jailed on a charge of driving while under the influence of drugs. Sergeant Ryan had an opiate addiction and abused heroin and other drugs after he was given a prescription painkiller after the boot camp groin injury, according to Mr. Warywoda. Sergeant Ryan's family said that he returned from eight months of combat in Iraq a different person and that the decorated Marine had a series of drug-related arrests and vehicular wrecks; his marriage ended and he was unable to maintain a job, Newsday reported.
"Mentally, he changed. Due to what he experienced and saw," Mr. Warywoda said during the trial, advising jurors that part of Sergeant Ryan's wartime job was to bring patients, some of them with serious injuries, including missing limbs, to a hospital, according to Newsday. Sergeant Ryan was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps. "Bart made a commitment to defend our country ... he did his job ... and because of that, he suffered mental issues," Mr. Warywoda said.
Armor Correctional Health Services' policy indicated that inmates who receive referrals for "urgent" treatment might have to wait up to 24 hours for care, said Mr. Warywoda. "If they had just listened to that form that deemed him a suicide risk, we wouldn't be here today," Mr. Warywoda said during the trial, referring to a jail document filled out by a corrections officer when Sergeant Ryan first came in and was screened for suicide risks, Newsday reported.
Armor Correctional Health Services has defended its care; however, the State Commission of Correction has found Armor's treatment deficient in at least five Nassau inmate deaths, including Ryan's. The oversight agency also found an Armor psychiatrist conducted an inadequate assessment of Ryan's mental health just hours before the inmate killed himself in his cell on February 24, 2012. For its part, Armor has, unsurprisingly, disputed that finding.
It took 18 hours after Ryan's admission for a psychiatrist to see him, according to Mr. Warywoda. The Parker Waichman attorney said that the doctor's sole diagnosis was opiate dependency and not PTSD or bipolar disorder. He noted that the physician did not prescribe Sergeant Ryan any drugs for mental health issues. Six hours later, the decorated Marine was dead, according to Newsday.
The family's civil lawsuit alleged that the death of the former Marine was wrongful as Nassau County and Armor Correctional Health Services acted with negligence during his brief incarceration; that Armor Correctional Health Services and Nassau County neglected to attend to the veteran's medical needs; and that Sergeant Ryan never received appropriate care, despite that he presented as a suicide risk based on a screen that revealed this risk, Mr. Warywoda said at trial.
The family also alleged that the facility violated Sergeant Ryan's eighth amendment constitutional right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment because of a policy in which inmates with referrals for "urgent" treatment may wait 24 hours for care, wrote Newsday. Mr. Warywoda said it took 18 hours after Sergeant Ryan's admission for a psychiatrist to see him. Meanwhile, the jail physician did not provide the Sergeant with medication for mental health issues. "When it came time for Armor to protect the health and safety of Bart, they failed him," Mr. Warywoda said to jurors. "He was deemed a suicide risk, and if they had just followed that finding, we wouldn't be here today," Newsday reported.
Since Armor Correctional Health Services won its contract in 2011, four lawsuits have been brought against it on behalf of the families of inmates who died at the jail, according to Newsday. Jurors heard that most of the liability rests with Armor, but Mr. Warywoda also explained that Nassau County is also partly liable as the officials "failed to properly train their correction officers."
The jury ordered Armor Correctional Health Services to pay $7 million in punitive damages to the family of Bartholomew Ryan and awarded the Ryan family $890,000 in compensatory damages against Armor and Nassau County, according to Newsday. "Thankfully, the jury made a point to tell Armor and the county that's not how you treat our veterans and people," said Nicholas Warywoda. "Justice is done," said Ryan's brother, Thomas.
As soon as the verdict was announced, an attorney for Armor Correctional Health Services argued that the jury misunderstood an instruction, and, because of that, the jury unfairly awarded compensatory damages twice for pain and suffering, according to Newsday. Mr. Warywoda, of Parker Waichman said that the jury may have been considering two different types of pain and suffering - from drug withdrawal and from the suicide itself. U.S. District Court Judge Joanna Seybert ordered both attorneys to submit papers on the issue.
Meanwhile, in March 2016, County Executive Edward Mangano announced that a team of public health officials would review medical treatment at Nassau County's jail following various inmate deaths allegedly attributed to failure to provide proper medical care. Executive Mangano also asked the county's health commissioner to form a team to be "charged with performing a health care assessment" at the East Meadow, New York jail. The State Commission of Correction found Armor has a pattern of neglectful inmate care. Specifically, the Commission found that Armor provided inadequate care to four inmates who died since Armor became the medical provider at the jail. The Commission indicated that two deaths that occurred in 2014 "may have been prevented."
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