On December 17, 2012, the Shawnee County, Kansas Commissioners approved a $150,000 settlement to the survivors of an inmate who died in November 2009 while imprisoned in its jail. The medical malpractice lawsuit was filed on April 11, 2012 by the prisoner’s aunt and mother against the Shawnee County Commission and twelve correctional officers alleging that the prisoner, 34-year-old John Bradley Rippee, overdosed on his own medications after being provided them without proper clearance and the jail failed to provide him timely and proper medical attention that would have saved his life.
The medical malpractice lawsuit alleged that on November 11, 2009, Rippee was arrested for allegedly violating a restraining order and that it was apparent at the time of his arrest that he may have taken too much of his prescription medications. The booking officer noticed that Rippee appeared unstable, was swaying front to back, and appeared to have been drinking.
Shortly after his arrest, Rippee’s aunt went to his house and obtained her nephew’s prescription medication bottles, which she brought to the jail. The jail’s licensed practical nurse allowed Rippee to handle his medication bottles. Later, a correctional officer searched Rippee and found a pill in his pocket and other pills in his hand. Rippee was allowed to take the pills that were in his possession before the pills were “cleared” by the jail health care system.
Less than one our later, Rippee was observed having a verbal altercation with another inmate. Correctional officers were advised by Rippee that he felt threatened and feared for his life. As a result, Rippee was placed in special protective custody and segregation where he was supposed to be closely observed by correctional officers who were required to perform timely rounds. He reportedly banged on his cell door for about one hour, was crying, and threatened to kill himself, to which a correctional officer allegedly responded, “Go ahead. We need the bed space.”
Rippee subsequently fell into a deep sleep and was heard snoring loudly. Sometime later, his snoring stopped. Three correctional officers reportedly observed Rippee breathing abnormally (deep breaths but shallow exhalations). The last correctional officer assigned to Rippee alleged that he observed Rippee breathing when he came on duty at about 4:16 a.m. About one-half hour later, a correctional officer and a medication aide received no response when they knocked on Rippee’s cell door during a medication pass.
At 4:53 a.m., Rippee was declared dead in his cell. An autopsy determined that Rippee had died between 11:00 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. (over four hours earlier) as a result of an overdose of his prescription medications. The medical malpractice lawsuit alleged that timely and appropriate attention to Rippee’s condition would have prevented his death.
While the level of available medical care in jails and prisons in the United States is often less than “on the outside,” inmates and prisoners are entitled to receive timely and proper medical care while they are incarcerated. If you know a present or former inmate or prisoner in a state or federal correctional facility who suffered serious injuries as a result of the failure of their jailers to provide timely and necessary medical care, the injured person should seek to consult with a local medical malpractice attorney to discuss filing a possible medical malpractice claim.
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