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Prisoner denied treatment for infectious abscess; $950,000 verdict

By: South Carolina Lawyers Weekly staff//November 13, 2023//

Prisoner denied treatment for infectious abscess; $950,000 verdict

By: South Carolina Lawyers Weekly staff//November 13, 2023//

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Action: Jail neglect

Injuries alleged: Large hole in skull, headaches, short-term memory loss and mild aphasia; noneconomic damages include past pain

Case name: Rhoads vs. Aiken County Detention Center

Court/case no.: Aiken County Court of Common Pleas / 2020-CP-02-02238

Judge: Eugene Griffith

Demand: $50,000 early in the case; $125,000 by time of trial

Highest offer: $20,000

Amount: $950,000

Date: Oct. 13, 2023

Attorneys: Francis “Brink” Hinson of HHP Law Group, Columbia, and Patrick McLaughlin of Wukela Law Firm, Florence (for the plaintiff); Andrew Lindemann of Lindemann Law Firm, Columbia (for the defendant)


Plaintiff was 28 when she was held at the Aiken County Detention Center as a repeat offender for relatively minor crimes (shoplifting and bad checks) and more serious ones (burglary and drug distribution). A few days into her detention, she complained of a growing “bump” on the side of her head. For the next three weeks, plaintiff repeatedly complained about the bump and reported that it had grown larger and become very painful.

Several witnesses (both detainees and guards) testified that the swollen area on the side of plaintiff’s head eventually grew to be as large as grapefruit. Although plaintiff was seen numerous times by the jail’s medical staff, the health care professionals simply prescribed pain medications and treated the swollen place as if it was related to a minor trauma.

Not receiving medical care, plaintiff lodged a “peaceful protest” during recreation time and said that she would not return to her cell and would only go to a hospital. The jail’s staff responded by treating this peaceful protest as barricading and placed her in solitary confinement.

About 26 days after the “bump” on her head was first noticed and about 14 days after it had become shockingly large, plaintiff lost consciousness and was finally taken to a local hospital where a tremendous infectious abscess on the side of her head was diagnosed. The abscess was so large and had been there so long that it had destroyed a large section of plaintiff’s skull, invaded her brain and caused a right-to-left shift of the brain.

Claims against the medical staff were settled before trial.

The sheriff’s office primary defense position was essentially, “The correctional officers have the right to rely on our third-party medical staff.” Plaintiff’s response was that a prisoner with an obviously serious, worsening medical condition should be taken to the hospital regardless of what medical staff members say.

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