7th Circuit affirms summary judgment to jail health care providers

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment to a county jail healthcare provider and his employer Monday after finding that the inmate bringing the malpractice claims against the providers failed to prove that his care was objectively unreasonable.

In August 2012, Kenneth Collins was arrested for operating a vehicle while intoxicated. A bottle of Librium, a substance commonly prescribed to treat withdrawal and anxiety disorders, was found in his car, and Dr. Nadir Al-Shami approved Collins’ use of Librium while in custody.

While in the Jackson County Jail, Collins began to show signs of alcohol withdrawal, such as shaking and sweating, and was prescribed Librium, a vitamin, and a multivitamin to treat his symptoms. However, after being in jail for three days, Collins began to show sign of paranoia, so he was sent to the emergency room.

Dr. Mark Guffrey, Collins’ treating doctor in the ER, did not advise the jail staff to continue giving Collins the Libriuim pills after he was discharged from the hospital. However, when Collins’ symptoms continued after his release, Al-Shami ordered that he be given Librium immediately.

Collins was sent back to the emergency room a few days later after he lost the ability to sit up or stand without help, and the hospital staff determined that he was hypothermic, had low blood pressure and was suffering from dehydration, sepsis and acute respiratory failure. He was then placed in a medically induced coma and did not return to the jail.

Collins sued Al-Shami and his employer, Advanced Correctional Healthcare, Inc., in November 2013, claiming negligence and a violation of his 14th Amendment rights. Judge Tanya Walton Pratt of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana granted summary judgment to the defendants, prompting the appeal in Kenneth Collins v. Nadir Al-Shami and Advanced Correctional Healthcare, Inc., 15-3179.

Collins argued that Al-Shami’s treatment was objectively unreasonable under the circumstances because he did not order that Collins’ vital signs be consistently monitored, but 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Joel Flaum wrote that “there is no suggestion that acute alcohol withdrawal cannot be treated or diagnosed absent those particular statistics (on vital signs).”

Collins then further argued that Al-Shami was liable under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 because he did not advise the on-site jail staff of when to contact him if Collins’ symptoms became worse. But Flaum wrote that the record did not indicate that Al-Shami was responsible for giving such orders, and, further, Collins did not point to any evidence that the orders Al-Shami did give were deficient. Further, if Al-Shami is not liable for Collins’ medical problems, then Advanced Correctional Healthcare also cannot be found liable, Flaum wrote.

Collins also brought a medical malpractice claim against the defendants under Indiana law, but the 7th Circuit held that his evidence against the medical providers – the same evidence used in his federal claims – was insufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact.  

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