Doctor must face civil trial in 2013 Lake County Jail death

A physician must face trial on a federal lawsuit alleging he was deliberately indifferent to the physical and mental illnesses of a man who died in 2013 after spending nearly four months in the Lake County Jail awaiting trial.

Judge Joseph Van Bokkelen on Wednesday denied Dr. William Forgey’s motion for summary judgment in a suit brought by the estate of Cedell Wright in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana. The Hammond man, 45, died on March 4, 2013. An autopsy concluded Wright died of pneumonia that had been present for days, with fecal impaction a contributing factor.

Van Bokkelen noted that Forgey disputes the autopsy’s conclusion. Forgey believes Wright had heart trouble and went into cardiac arrest, and that after he was intubated the tube became dislodged, Wright died from lack of oxygen. Forgey argues this could have caused post-death congestion and trauma to the lungs seen in the autopsy as pneumonia.

Wright had been in jail since Nov. 9, 2012, where he didn’t eat, became dangerously thin and consistently refused medical and psychological treatment on numerous occasions despite serious physical and mental health problems. His criminal attorney at one point reported his emaciated condition to jail staff, Van Bokkelen wrote. Wright’s estate argues in the civil suit that more aggressive care including involuntary treatments should have been ordered because Wright’s refusals given his mental and physical condition posed a clear danger to himself.

Forgey, affiliated with Correctional Health Indiana Inc., which contracts medical services to the jail, could not avail himself of the protections of qualified immunity, Van Bokkelen wrote. “(T)he only issue is whether there is evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that Dr. Forgey was deliberately indifferent to Wright’s serious medical needs. While this is an unusual case, there is evidence from which a jury could reach that conclusion.   

“… The medical records in this case show a patient who repeatedly refused medication and treatment against his own interest, who would not eat, whose appearance was described as emaciated, and who suffered from serious mental illness. While numerous different healthcare providers saw Wright and evaluated him during his incarceration, very little treatment occurred because of his refusals. Meanwhile his mental and physical health steadily declined.  A jury could find that Dr. Forgey knew from Wright’s medical records documenting his weight loss and refusal of medications that he was a danger to himself and that more aggressive measures such as forced medication, a psychiatric referral, and forced nutrition should have been considered.  Instead, the medical staff did little more than chart his downward spiral,” Van Bokkelen wrote.

The case is Estate of Cedell Wright v. Lake County, IN, et al., 2:13-CV-333.

Fogey is also being sued by another man, Robert Holleman, who claimed that while he was jailed in Lake County, Forgey intentionally failed to provide a medically prescribed gluten-free diet, causing Holleman to suffer diarreha, bloating and other issues as a result.

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