Inmate Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed Over Inadequate Medical Care at Jail

A Texas jail faces a wrongful death lawsuit by the family of an inmate who died unattended in the jail clinic, following a federal investigation into how the prison let 142 inmates die within its walls since 2001.

The family of Margarita Saavedra filed the Texas jail death lawsuit last Thursday against Harris County Jail, alleging that jail staff let the 44-year old woman die of a staph infection that spread from her left knee. The complaint alleges that the inmate, family members and even the woman’s employers pleaded for the jail to provide her with proper medical care. However, the jail allegedly dismissed the concerns, believing Saavedra was faking illness to gain access to drugs.

The inmate wrongful death lawsuit comes on the heels of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), which found that some conditions at the jail violated the constitutional rights of prisoners, and noted that “the number of inmates deaths related to inadequate medical care…is alarming.”

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The report found that the jail failed to provide prisoners with adequate medical care, mental health care, protection from serious physical harm and protection from life safety hazards. While the DOJ has refused to release the report, a copy was obtained by the Houston Chronicle.

Saavedra died unattended at the jail medical clinic on January 12, 2008, according to jail documents. The family discovered her death two days later, not from the jail, but from a cellmate who called the family to inform them. Saavedra had attempted for a week to get treatment for a knee infection that she said occurred when she banged her knee against her bed. The knee had previously undergone surgery and had a metal pin in it.

A doctor ordered an MRI and and referred her to see a bone surgeon, but jail staff believed she was just trying to gain access to drugs, the claim alleges. Saavedra was sent again to the clinic on January 12 by a jailer after complaining of the pain and weakness, but she died after waiting in a holding area for more than two hours, according to the lawsuit.

The DOJ report cited the jail’s medical care as a problem, specifically noting that it lacked in providing adequate care of prisoners with serious chronic care requirements and that it also lacked in providing follow-up treatment. The report indicated that the deficiencies, combined with poor medical record-keeping and quality assurance problems “are serious enough to place detainees at an unacceptable risk of death or injury.”

An autopsy revealed Saavedra died of sepsis due to a bacterial infection of the knee, which the plaintiffs say was treatable. Harris County jail officials have not commented on the lawsuit, which names the facility and one jail nurse as defendants.


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