Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Camden County pays $400,000 to settle wrongful death action

On July 16, 2008, the County of Camden agreed to pay $400,000 to a estate of man who hanged himself while incarcerated at the Camden County Correctional Facility (CCCF).

In her suit, Agnes E. Walls, administratrix of the estate of Christopher L. Miller, claimed that CCCF officials ignored Miller's repeated threats of suicide while he was incarcerated in early January 2005. According to the suit, Miller allegedly "begged [the guards] to again place him in restraints, so as to prevent him from taking his own life." He reportedly hanged himself after guards "turned a deaf ear to his entreaties and ignored his prayer for help."

Named in the suit were Facility Warden Eric Taylor and CCCF officers Harry Sweeten, Troy Jones, Walter Radlinger, Glen Titus, Donald Souder, Christopher Burcii, J. DeForge, and Donovan Washington.

According to a July 16, 2008 settlement, the County agreed to pay Walls $300,000 of the $400,000 settlement immediately and work with her to file direct claims against CFG Health Systems, LLC and Steininger Behavioral Care Services, who appear to be private contractors retained by the County. According to a December 3, 2009 release, the County recovered a total of $150,000 from CFG and Steininger.

The case is captioned Walls v. County of Camden, Federal Case No. 1:06-cv-05961 and Walls' attorney was Philip Stephen Fuoco of Haddonfield. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Walls' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $400,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Camden or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Camden or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Walls $400,000 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.