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Wrongful death suit against jail sent to arbitration

A Texas woman who was arrested after a traffic stop in 2010 for misdemeanor warrants was found unresponsive in a Gregg County Jail separation cell three days later. A nearby hospital pronounced her dead shortly afterwards. Her family has filed a wrongful death suit against the jail, claiming that the woman was not given her prescribed medications that she needed to survive. The medications were allegedly in her purse in the jail property room when she died.

The plaintiffs claim that prior to her arrest, the woman had become addicted to painkillers from past injuries. She had been in a treatment program to control her addiction to these prescription drugs. She was receiving methadone treatments every day up until she was put in jail. Without methadone, she possibly would suffer from life-threatening withdrawal. The suit alleges she was denied her medicine even though she showed signs of withdrawal, such as seizures and hallucinations. Reports say that other Texas jails allow inmates to use the drugs she was not allowed to use.

The autopsy report says the woman's cause of death was ruled as a probable seizure from withdrawal from the two medications she was taking, but not allowed to take in jail. The woman also had double the lethal level of Atropine in her system. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards has since found the jail to be noncompliant and some jailers have been fired based on an investigation by a Gregg County sheriff.

The lawsuit claims compensatory damages, actual damages and attorney's fees. The suit was sent to arbitration, but will be going to trial in January. Wrongful death suits often claim compensation for financial injuries such as loss of support, medical expenses and services. Courts will consider the age, earning capacity and life expectancy of the deceased when determining monetary loss. Damages received can help families dealing with a loss of a loved one.

Source: The Daily Tribune, "Cowling wrongful death lawsuit goes to arbitration," Mac Overton, Sept. 19, 2012

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Brian Jensen

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