Fifth Circuit Upholds Jury Verdict for Man Who Contracted MRSA and Lost an Eye in Dallas County Jail
Mark Duvall was only in jail for 15 days, but that was long enough to contract the staph infection that would leave him blind in one eye. From the Fifth Circuit’s opinion (PDF) upholding a jury verdict in his favor:
The jury heard evidence that the Jail experienced around 200 infections per month. Indeed, record evidence demonstrates that the infection rate of MRSA in the Jail was close to 20 percent, and that most jails in 2003 would have one or two cases per month, resulting in an infection rate of one or two percent. It would be reasonable to conclude that the infection rate in the Jail was ten to twenty times higher than in comparable jails. The record also establishes that the County’s awareness of the situation preceded Duvall’s confinement, and that there had been serious outbreaks of MRSA in the Jail for at least three years before Duvall’s arrival. (p. 5)
[The jury] heard evidence that the Sheriff and other jail officials had long known of the extensive MRSA problem yet had continued to house inmates in the face of the inadequately controlled staph contamination. Testimony was presented that it was feasible to control the outbreak through tracking, isolation, and improved hygiene practices, but that the County was not willing to take the necessary steps or spend the money to do so. (p. 6)
The jury’s $355,000 verdict can be downloaded here (PDF). As Grits noted in 2008, Dallas County has been slammed with multiple big-number jury verdicts in recent years — and no wonder: here’s a 2006 DOJ investigation (PDF) filled with troubling findings about inadequate medical screening and care in the Dallas County Jail complex. My advice to readers: Don’t get arrested in Dallas!
Dallas County is currently the site of a University of Chicago study on MRSA. Researchers there first got the idea to study jailhouse MRSA outbreaks when they noticed that staph infections were spreading from the Cook County Jail into the community:
Then in the mid-1990s, [Dr. Robert] Daum and other pediatricians at the U of C hospitals noticed a rising tide of MRSA cases in children who had no risk factors—they had not been recently hospitalized and had no chronic conditions. “That had never happened before,” Daum said. “People didn’t believe us.” …
“So we had to ask, ‘Why are we seeing it and they aren’t? What’s the difference between our kids and theirs?’” Daum said. Daum and his colleagues found that about 60 percent of their patients had close relatives or friends who had recently spent time in jail.