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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Plaintiff Who Suffered Brain Damage In County Jail Awarded More Than $12 Million

 August 5, 2019 at 10:35 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 A San Diego man who suffered brain damage after officers arrested him on suspicion of public drunkenness while he was being treated by paramedics has been awarded $12 million. The lawsuit accuses San Diego County deputies of false arrest, negligence, excessive force, and deliver it in difference among other allegations. San Diego County disputes the claims and is considering its legal options for an appeal. Joining me is Kelly Davis who reported the story with San Diego Union Tribune reporter Jeff McDonald. Kelly, thanks so much for joining us. Thank you. A jury awarded 12 million to a North county man who suffered brain damage after he was arrested by sheriff deputies. And walk us through what happened. Speaker 2: 00:43 Yeah, the young man, his name's David Collins. Um, so this happened in November, 2016 he was 30 years old and he was suffering from a condition called Hypno Tree Mia, which, uh, results in, um, your blood sodium level dropping to a dangerously low level. And some of the signs of this are confusion, uh, weakness, hallucinations and, and so he had wandered out of his house. He had, he had gone about 200 feet away from his house according to the lawsuit, and he fell a pedestrian, um, who was walking by, saw him, um, went over to see if he was okay and he said, please get me help, please call nine one one. So, um, the paramedics arrived, uh, some sheriff's deputies arrived, but before the paramedics could render aid or assess what was wrong with Mr. Collins, the deputies handcuffed him. Uh, they called it in as a drunk in public and uh, took him to the Vista detention facility and there he fell at least twice. He possibly fell three times. Uh, there was some mention in the records of him falling in the parking lot when they arrived at the jail. His, his booking photo shows scratches on his face, but the entire time he was there, he was in the jail for, um, about 13 hours. The belief was the entire time that he was intoxicated, um, even though, like I said, he, he fell and hit his head at least twice and he was continuously just displaying signs of, of confusion and a, an altered mental state. Speaker 1: 02:18 What can you tell us about the extent of the brain damage? Collin suffers from now? Speaker 2: 02:23 Yeah, he, so he suffered not only the damage from his fall in jail, but there was a additional brain damage when he got to the Palomar Medical Center and there was some errors I guess with the medication he was administered to bring his blood sodium level back to normal. So I think that kind of exacerbated things. But ultimately, uh, you know, uh, according to his attorney attorneys, um, he will need medical assistance for the rest of his life. He needed help, uh, regaining the ability to walk and speak. You know, one, one thing that really got me in lawsuit is it can take him 15 minutes to button up a shirt. Um, his parents are really working with him to try to help him rehabilitate. But yeah, he won't be able to hold down a job and, and he will need continuing medical care for the rest of his life. Speaker 2: 03:15 Did the award involve the sheriff's department admitting fault in this? No. I mean this was the, a jury awards. So, you know, as opposed to a settlement. But you know that the sheriff's Department of course said that they disagreed with the jury verdict. Um, they, they blamed Mr. Collins for, for what happened to him. Um, I guess he was an avid video game player and had kind of spent a couple of weeks beforehand as the, the sheriff's department said drinking beer and playing video games and not attending to his own health, which triggered the low blood sodium. So, um, yeah, they said that the Mr. Collins failure to take care of himself is what caused, uh, his harm in the first place. There's lawsuit isn't the only one the family has filed. Who else have they sued and why? So as most lawsuits do, they, they started off with, with kind of a, a wide swath of defendants. Speaker 2: 04:07 You know, there was a, the ambulance provider, um, Palomar health, the city of Encinitas, um, various doctors and nurses at the hospital. But, you know, all those parties kind of dropped away after a while. They were either dismissed or they reached private settlements. So for this jury trial, um, all that was left was, uh, sheriff's deputies and sheriff's, uh, Vista jail medical staff. The jury is $12 million award. Is the result of one of dozens of lawsuits against the sheriff's departments over the last decade resulting in more than $20 million in damage awards. How unusual is that? Yeah, this is, you know, there have been some pretty significant settlements involving, um, inmates who've died in jail. There's a $2 million settlement there. There was a $3 million settlement. This is, this is huge. Um, I tried to look back as far as I could in, um, you know, in news records and I could not find a verdict this large in a San Diego County jail, uh, law enforcement case at all. Speaker 2: 05:16 So it, it could be, I, I mean, I, I don't want to say it's the largest verdict ever. Uh, definitely one of the largest, why are taxpayers footing the bill for these settlements? It's cause the, the county is self insured. And has the sheriff's department made any changes as a result of these lawsuits and settlements? I, I'm not sure. I'm, because these lawsuits keep happening, settlements keep happening. Um, there's, there's some more lawsuits being filed this year involving inmates, you know, or inmates, families that, uh, allege, you know, neglect and harm on the part of the sheriff's Deputies and jail staff. So, I'm not sure if because of the, you know, like I said, this keeps happening. What's the next step in terms of this $12 million settlement? So the, the county and the sheriff's department will decide, uh, will need to decide whether they want to appeal the verdict in the, I believe they've got about 60 days to make that decision. I've been speaking to report her. Kelly Davis. Kelly, thank you so much for joining us. Thank you. Speaker 3: 06:19 [inaudible].

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A Carlsbad man who suffered brain damage while in custody at the Vista Detention Facility was awarded more than $12 million dollars in damages last week, one of the largest awards in a case against San Diego County in recent history.
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