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Drug Addict Dies from Withdraw while Incarcerated and Family is Awarded $ 3 Million Dollars Against the Institution


On June 23, 2001, 21 year old Daniel Sisson was arrested for possessing heroin while on probation. Due to his probation violation, he was ordered directly back to the Vista jail in California County.

Sisson was a heroin addict and, while in custody, he suffered an asthma attack which is a symptom caused by heroin withdrawal. Two days later, he was in his jail bunk dead from said asthma attack according to the testimony of an expert forensic pathologist during trial.

The young Sisson’s parents brought a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court against California County and the Sheriff’s Department claiming, among other things, that Sisson was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of his constitutional rights, and that he suffered a wrongful death. Most specifically, the Sisson’s found the method that the county used in training staff on how to deal with detoxing inmates such as how they check their cells was at fault. The jurors agreed and awarded the family $ 3 Million Dollars .

It should be duly noted that the lawyer for the county did tell jurors that the young Sisson did not tell the truth about his drug use when he was booked into the jail, and, at one point, he also refused medical treatment. This did not seem to matter much to the jury in this case.

As we know too well, money may be awarded to a family for the loss of a loved one as in this case, but money rarely actually compensates a family for the loss of a loved one. As such, in this case, the Sisson family hopes that this case will bring attention to this issue and bring about change in the system about training staff and revamping procedures and policies in these types of situations. The counsel for the county agreed and said that he would be exploring the next steps possible with his clients in an effort to effectuate change.

In Georgia, we see this happen far too often in jail settings with not just detoxing inmates but inmates who are ill and need medical treatment while incarcerated. In our law practice, probably the one most common complaint of inmates is the lack of proper medical treatment and the medical negligence that occurs behind bars.

We must be mindful that although people are incarcerated for a variety of crimes, some of which can be horrific, that that does not negate our responsibility for humane treatment and this includes proper medical treatment. We all have a constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment and, as we saw in this case, suffering from an asthma attack in jail while detoxing from drugs can be considered cruel and unusual punishment. It is hard to imagine such a horrible death.

What makes these cases so difficult for Plaintiffs, such as the Sissons, to prevail is that the Defendant institutions and their staff are usually subject to governmental immunity which means that they are immune from the usual standards of care that they would be held to in other cases, and this standard of care is less than the usual Standard of Care in Medical Malpractice or Negligence cases where the Defendants can not hide behind the shield of immunity, governmental or otherwise.

As we saw in the Sisson case, however, the jury was not impressed with the theory of governmental immunity and awarded a large verdict in light of this theory.

At Julie A. Rice, Attorney at Law, & Affiliates we represent clients, and their families, who are, or who have been, incarcerated that have suffered medical issues or death as a result of the medical negligence of the jail or prison where the person was incarcerated. If you or a loved one have suffered such an incident whether it be a catastrophic injury or death, then Contact Us for your free legal consultation.

Everyone deserves humane treatment and proper medical care regardless of the situation!