Wife of former inmate settles lawsuit

Near-fatal seizures at regional jail led to brain damage

The wife of a former jail inmate who suffered near-fatal seizures while he was in custody at the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center in Winchester has been awarded $2.7 million in a lawsuit settled in U.S. District Court in Roanoke.

The plaintiff, Suzanne Boren, who filed the suit on behalf of her husband Rockie Harold Watts, argued through her attorneys that the failure of the jail staff to provide her husband with adequate and timely medical care for the seizure left him with severe brain damage.

The settlement, approved by Judge Michael F. Urbanski, requires Boren to drop her claims against the jail authority and eight jail employees, including the former superintendent and several nurses.

Boren, who is identified in the lawsuit as “guardian of the person and conservator of the estate of Rockie Harold Watts,” asked for $37.2 million in punitive damages plus $3 million in compensatory damages when she filed the suit in February 2013.

The suit’s complaint states that Watts “is now completely dependent upon others for all his activities of daily living, and he is unable to eat, stand, walk or toilet himself, among other deficits, and he now requires 24-hour care for the rest of his life” as a result of improper medical care by the jail staff.

It took a defibrillator and other emergency measures to revive Watts’ heart after he was taken by ambulance to Winchester Medical Center at 12:09 a.m. on May 6, 2012, according to the complaint.

Court documents say that Winchester police arrested Watts hours earlier and charged him with profane swearing and public intoxication. He suffered the first of several seizures in the jail at 9:50 p.m., according to court documents.

Watts suffered three more seizures before jail staff called for an EMS crew to provide him with emergency care, the complaint states.

The complaint identifies Watts’ disability as hypoxic encephalopathy, a condition caused by “severe metabolic acidosis that had built up” during the hours of untreated seizures.

Phone calls to attorneys representing both sides in the lawsuit were not returned. A call to James Whitley, the current jail superintendent, was also not returned.

John Riley, the chairman of the jail authority and Frederick County Executive, said he had not seen the settlement as of Tuesday.

“The jail board was briefed at its meeting last week in a closed session as to its status,” Riley said of the lawsuit. “To the superintendent’s knowledge, it was going to be settled.”

A disbursement schedule filed with Urbanski’s order approving the settlement shows that Boren’s Richmond-based lawyers will receive $1.269 million of the $2.7 million. Other costs, including unpaid medical bills, left $905,491 for a special needs trust for Watts. A handwritten note on the disbursement schedule states that the Watts’ trust share of the settlement could increase to $1 million after a “possible” reduction in part of the outstanding medical bills and a reduction in plaintiff attorneys’ fees.

A receipt filed with other court documents states that the money awarded to Boren was paid through the state’s Division of Risk Management and the Virginia Association of Counties Group Self-Insurance Risk Pool, two agencies that provide insurance to local governments.

“To my knowledge, no taxpayer funds have gone into this,” Riley said of the settlement.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com

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