Judge Preliminarily Approves Settlement with Fla. Dept. of Corrections and Corizon Over Failure to Provide Hernia Surgeries

TALLAHASSEE.  On September 22, 2016, U.S. District Court Judge Robert L. Hinkle preliminarily approved a class action settlement between a class of incarcerated people and the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) and its former medical contractor Corizon, LLC, resolving claims that the Defendants had a policy and practice of unlawfully denying medically necessary hernia surgeries in an effort to save costs.  The plaintiff class is represented by the Florida Justice Institute (FJI) and the firm Kozyak Tropin Throckmorton.  The Court preliminarily approved a Consent Order, which will require the Defendants to pay a combined $2.1 million to a class of roughly 2,000 current and formerly incarcerated persons with hernias, and will require the FDOC to officially change its health care policy governing hernias to ensure that hernia patients are promptly referred to surgeons for surgical consultations, and that the recommendations from those surgeons are carried out, absent exceptional circumstances.   There will later be a final fairness hearing after the class members are given notice of the settlement.

“We’re pleased that the FDOC has agreed to change its policy on hernia treatment, and that the patients who were affected by it will receive some financial compensation,” said Randall C. Berg, Jr., FJI’s Executive Director.  “This settlement is one step toward the overall improvement of medical care for all incarcerated people in Florida,” he added.

The Complaint, filed one year ago, accused the FDOC and its private medical contractor Corizon of failing to provide hernia surgeries, resulting in possibly thousands of prisoners being left in severe pain, unable to engage in normal activities, and at risk for serious complications such as bowel obstruction, infection, and even death.  The case was brought by three prisoners—Tracy Copeland, Amado Parra, and Archie Green—who sought to represent a class of all FDOC prisoners with untreated hernias.  The lawsuit alleged that both the FDOC and Corizon had a policy, practice, and custom of not providing hernia surgeries, except in emergency circumstances, for the purpose of saving costs and increasing profits.

As recounted in the Complaint, numerous prisoners had complained of excruciating hernia pain and debilitation for years, yet had not received the simple surgeries that would have alleviated their symptoms.  In many of those instances, doctors had recommended surgery, but the FDOC and Corizon refused to provide it.  In other instances, prisoners were not even allowed to be examined by a surgeon to determine if surgery was warranted.

During the pendency of the lawsuit, Corizon terminated its contract with the FDOC, leaving another company to resume providing medical care to FDOC prisoners.  Under its contract, Corizon had a financial incentive to avoid providing medical care because it was paid a flat per-prisoner fee and was responsible for all costs of care.

“Hopefully this agreement marks a shift in the way that Florida provides medical care to the people in its custody,” said Dante P. Trevisani, an FJI attorney. “This case is just one more illustration of the failure of privatized prison health care.”

The case is Copeland v. Jones, Case No. 4:15-cv-00452-RH-CAS, and is before Judge Robert L. Hinkle in the Northern District of Florida.

The attorneys received the Daily Business Review’s 2016 Most Effective Lawyer Award for the Public Interest category for their work on this case.

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