Sunday, July 18, 2010

State pays $75,000 to family of prisoner who committed suicide

On July 10, 2009, the State of New Jersey, Department of Corrections agreed to pay $75,000 to the family of a man who allegedly hanged himself in his prison cell while incarcerated at Northern State Prison.

In their suit, the family of Tyree Wilson alleged that prison officials were "deliberately indifferent" to Wilson's medical needs, and that prison guards Todd Barnett and Craig Sears "failed to conduct the required rounds in the Unit in which [Wilson] was placed for close observation. The suit also accuses medical professionals employed by CFG Health Systems, LLC., a private vendor of health services, of failing to properly diagnose and treat Wilson. Wilson's family alleged that these failures, along with "injuries deliberately, wantonly and maliciously inflicted upon" Wilson led to his alleged suicide on January 16, 2005

The case is captioned Estate of Tyree Wilson v. Northern State Prison, et al., Federal Case No. 07-cv-1942 (WJM) and the Wilson family's attorney was Michael D'Aquanni of Springfield. A court opinion and settlement agreement are on-line here. There may have been a separate settlement with CFG Health Systems, LLC, but since that company is private, it does not respond to Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests.

None of the family's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $75,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Department of Corrections or any of its employees. All that is known for sure is that the State or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the family $75,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.