Appellate Court Affirms Summary Judgment in Favor of Sheriff and Jail Staff on Medical Negligence Claim

January 16, 2018

The Seventh Circuit Appellate Court affirmed the District Court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the Sheriff, the Chief of Corrections and jail staff in Lipsey v. U.S.A., et al., No. 17-1063 (7th Cir. Jan. 4, 2018). The case was brought by a disabled minor, J.L., who was injured when her mother delivered while in federal custody at the Jerome Combs Detention Center in September 2009. J.L. brought a claim for medical malpractice against the jail medical staff and for ordinary negligence against the Sheriff and non-medical staff. Her mother, Wenona White entered the facility 11 days before her preterm labor. During those 11 days, she refused medical treatment and denied any problems with her pregnancy. Jail officials had difficulty scheduling White with a local obstetrician, but were able to find one willing to take her as a patient the day before she went into labor. An appointment was scheduled for the following week.

When White awoke on September 22 with abdominal pain, she was rushed to the ER via ambulance. The treating and independent physicians who testified in the case agreed that White suffered a placental abruption either in the ambulance or after arriving at the hospital. J.L. was delivered by an emergency cesarean section and was born not breathing. She was resuscitated, but the oxygen deprivation resulted in severe, permanent physical and mental disabilities.

In considering J.L.’s claims, the Appellate Court, like the court below, acknowledged the tragic nature of J.L.’s injuries. However, the Appellate Court upheld the application of Section 4-105 of the Illinois Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act to bar J.L.’s claims. Section 4-105 protects jail and prison staff from medical negligence claims unless the staff member knows that the inmate needs immediate care and willfully and wantonly fails to provide it. The Court found there was no evidence that any jail staff members were aware of a need for immediate care or acted willfully and wantonly. To the contrary, the first time immediate care was needed was the morning White went into labor and an ambulance was promptly summoned. Finally, the Appellate Court addressed the claims against the Sheriff and non-medical staff, dismissing the claims because there was no evidence that either had a reason to believe the care at the jail would be inadequate and because they were entitled to rely on the judgment of the medical professionals.

Michael Condon, Jason Rose, and Yordana Wysocki represented the defendants.

Lipsey v. U.S.A.

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