SEATTLE, WASHINGTON – King County will pay $1 million to a former jail inmate who fainted and fell while in custody, suffering a spinal injury that went untreated for days and left him with permanent nerve damage.
Bryan Telford alleged medical malpractice by county-jail staff while he was being held before trial at the King County Correctional Facility in Seattle when he fell in September 2016. Telford ‘s attorneys said he displayed immediately symptoms of a cervical spinal injury and immediately asked to be transported to Harborview Medical Center, but was not taken to the hospital for 10 days, according to court documents.
In that time, his injuries worsened and he now has permanent neurological damage, said his attorney, Craig Sandberg. Telford filed a medical-malpractice lawsuit against the county last year. The county will pay Telford $1 million, according to a settlement report provided by Sandberg.
The King County Prosecutor’s Office referred a request for comment to the county public-health department.
In a statement, Public Health – Seattle & King County, which oversees jail medical staff, confirmed the $1 million settlement but declined to comment on the specifics of Telford’s case, citing privacy concerns. The statement said jail staff work to “provide the highest quality care to people in custody.”
“Every health care system has unfortunate outcomes, and we strive to make them infrequent and rare in the jail,” the statement said. “We review cases and practices regularly, and continually improve how we provide care for this complex population of patients.”
Telford, who was 37 at the time, fell around 1 a.m. Sept. 27, 2016, and first saw jail medical staff later that morning. He asked to be taken to Harborview, but jail staff denied his request, according to the complaint Telford filed last August. Telford was in jail after allegedly assaulting his roommate in June 2016. The case was later dismissed, Sandberg said.
When he requested medical help after the fall, Telford claimed jail staff mocked him. He said one corrections officer told him to get his “ass” back to his cell before they “tazed” him; he said another clapped and said, “And the Academy Award goes to … ,” according to the complaint. Instead of transferring him to Harborview, jail staff gave Telford a wheelchair and moved him, handcuffed, to a cell by himself, the complaint said.
Over the following days, Telford’s symptoms worsened and he fell at least one more time. He was seen multiple times by jail medical staff and given a walker, according to court documents. He was taken to the hospital Oct. 7. By that time, according to the claim, Telford could not walk or go to the bathroom and his entire lower body was numb, Sandberg said.
“I understand that sometimes in the jail setting, lots of people complain so staff hear complaints all the time, but in this particular case Mr. Telford had symptoms consistent with a spinal injury,” Sandberg said. “There was no reason to wait that long.”
Telford now has spasms, difficulty with balance and neurological dysfunction below his navel, Sandberg said. At Harborview, Telford underwent surgery to address swelling and a compressed spinal cord and required several vertebrae to be fused. That surgery stopped “the downward trajectory” of his condition, so having the surgery earlier could have reduced permanent nerve damage, Sandberg said.
The lawsuit argued that by waiting to transfer Telford to Harborview, jail staff failed to meet the required standards for detainees’ medical treatment.
The settlement will not mandate any policy changes at the jail, but Sandberg said it may encourage the county to “redouble their efforts to comply with the standard of care and treat each patient individually.”
By: Heidi Groover
Published: October 8, 2018