The South Carolina Insurance Reserve Fund has agreed to pay $1.35 million to the estate of a mentally ill man who died in a segregation unit of the Florence County Detention Center, the attorneys for his estate report.
The carrier will pay $975,000 on behalf of Florence County and its sheriff’s office and $375,000 on behalf of a contract provider, the attorneys said. Many details of the case have been withheld due to a confidentiality agreement.
James Moore III and Scott Evans of Evans Moore in Georgetown report that their deceased, whose mental health conditions included schizophrenia, had spent approximately eight months in “extreme isolation” in the Maximum Segregation Unit after being placed on suicide watch by jail staff and a psychiatrist.
Attorneys said that the man self-reported to the McLeod Regional Medical Center in February 2018, seeking help for his mental health conditions. He was arrested after becoming combative with staff, the attorneys said, and should’ve faced only a 30-day jail sentence.
After being placed on suicide watch, the deceased became ineligible for release without being involuntarily committed to a mental health facility or placed in the care and custody of the Department of Social Services as a vulnerable adult, the attorneys said, adding that suicide watch is intended as a temporary precaution to be used for no more than a few days until a detainee’s mental health can be stabilized.
“While on suicide watch, his mental health continued to deteriorate,” his attorneys said. “[He] had been critically sick for a period of at least five days leading to his death. On numerous occasions it was reported that [he] … had not consumed any food and needed urgent medical attention.”
The attorneys said that the deceased also suffered from hallucinations and that he spent several days during the week of his death lying on the floor, on a mattress covered with feces, urine, and vomit. On Oct. 19, 2018, he was discovered unresponsive in his cell, his attorneys said, and had eaten portions of his soiled mattress.
The reported downtime between cell checks was approximately 15 minutes, but that emergency medical workers reported that the man appeared to have been dead considerably longer. According to medical reports, the man was cold to the touch and showed indications of early rigor mortis. Beyond regular cell checks, detainees on suicide watch are supposed to be video monitored 24 hours a day.
Attorneys said that an autopsy revealed that the man was dehydrated but that he died from a small bowel obstruction, present for days before his death, caused by material from the mattress and plastic bottle caps.
The lawsuit was brought pursuant to the state’s Tort Claims Act and Medical Malpractice Act, alleging the defendants were grossly negligent in providing the man with access to reasonable medical care.
The attorneys said that they served the sheriff’s office a preservation letter requesting that the agency preserve all video surveillance of the man’s unit from Oct. 17 to Oct. 20, 2018.
“Despite Plaintiff’s request for preservation and the existence of a criminal investigation, the requested video surveillance was destroyed,” the attorneys wrote in an email to Lawyers Weekly.
SETTLEMENT REPORT — WRONGFUL DEATH
Amount: $1.35 million
Case name: Withheld
Court: Florence County Circuit Court
Date of settlement: Feb. 1
Insurance carrier: South Carolina Insurance Reserve Fund
Attorneys for plaintiff: James Moore III and Scott Evans of Evans Moore in Georgetown
Attorneys for defendants: Withheld