Lawsuit settled for $1.25 million in death of prisoner whose water was shut off
LANSING, Mich. – The state Department of Corrections and its health care contractor will pay $1.25 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the son of a prisoner who was severely dehydrated and died after officials shut off the water in her cell.
The settlement paid to the family of Darlene Martin, a prisoner at Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, is the latest in a series of six-figure or larger legal payouts this year resulting from alleged wrongdoing in the state prison system.
Martin was 66 when she was sent to prison in December 2013 for retail fraud.
Court records detail how her mental health quickly deteriorated and she was transferred to segregation in June 2014. Before she was taken to a nearby hospital that month, "she was saturated with filth and her feet were significantly pruned from standing in her own sewage, urine and excrement," U.S. District Judge David Lawson wrote in 2018 when denying a motion from Corizon Health to dismiss the lawsuit.
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Prison officials shut off the water to Martin's cell as a punishment for allowing toilet water to spill on her blanket, according to court records.
Although she needed urgent medical treatment, prison staff continued to inject Martin with sedatives, without checking her vital signs, according to depositions in the case.
When she was taken to the hospital, Martin was diagnosed with respiratory failure, severe dehydration (described as a water deficit level of 11 liters), liver failure and renal failure. Because of her dehydration and respiratory failure, she suffered severe brain damage and related complications that required 24-hour care. She was paroled in April 2016 and died in October 2017, around the time her family sued.
Under the terms of the settlement approved last week, the Corrections Department will pay $550,000, and several other defendants, including Corizon – which holds a five-year, $715.7 million prison health contract with the state – will pay $700,000, records show.
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A Corizon spokeswoman would not say how much of the settlement will be paid by the company and declined further comment. Corrections Department spokesman Chris Gautz declined comment, deferring to the Attorney General's Office.
Martin's son Robert will receive more than $700,000 and her two sisters will receive $20,000 each.
The Fieger law firm, which represented the family, will receive about $475,000 in legal fees and costs.
In other legal payouts this year involving the Michigan Department of Corrections:
- In September, a jury in Genesee County awarded $11.4 million to two black prison workers in a case alleging racial discrimination and retaliation. The jury found that Lisa Griffey, a probation officer, was discriminated against and harassed because she is black. The jury found that her husband, Cedric, was retaliated against until he was forced to resign because he and his wife complained about the harassment.
- In May, the department agreed to pay $860,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by relatives of a prisoner who hanged herself after officials allegedly placed a bet on whether she would become suicidal. Janika Edmond, 25, used her bra to hang herself in a shower at Women's Huron Valley Correctional Facility in 2015 after her request for a suicide prevention vest prompted an officer to pump her fist and exclaim, "Somebody owes me lunch," according to video evidence.
- Also in May, an Ingham County jury awarded former state prison warden Jeff Larson $438,000 in damages after finding supervisors retaliated against him for defending a female subordinate who complained about sexual discrimination and harassment.
- In January, a parole-probation officer settled her sexual harassment suit against the department for $1.1 million.
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