(L-R) Joseph Zarzaur of Zarzaur Law Pensacola/Coral Gables and Russell A. Dohan, Dohan Law, Coral Gables. Courtesy photos
The family of a Florida woman who died in a Pensacola area jail, managed by a Miami-based healthcare company, has just been awarded $16 million in a medical-malpractice and wrongful-death case.
The attorney for the husband of 44-year old Misty Williamson said he attributes the 8-figure award to getting defendant Armor Correctional Health Services Inc. to admit to the jury that it was guilty of being a felon.
“What came into evidence is the fact that this company was convicted in Wisconsin of a felony… for neglecting a prisoner,” said lead counsel Joseph Anthony Zarzaur of Zarzaur Law based in Pensacola, with offices in Coral Gables.
Zarzaur represented Williamson’s survivors, who alleged the mother and wife died because officials denied medical attention during her temporary incarceration.
The original lawsuit, filed in Miami-Dade County with Coral Gables attorney Russell A. Dohan at the helm, stated Armor’s neglectful treatment and delay in transfer to the emergency room caused Williamson’s death.
The case was later transferred to Santa Rosa County, Florida, at Armor’s request. The lawsuit was ultimately amended after initial discovery to claim punitive damages.
“It is so difficult to convict a company of a crime,” Zarzaur said. “The prosecutors in Wisconsin were so amazed by the lack of care rendered to this one in man in Wisconsin, that they brought criminal charges against a corporation, and they prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the corporation was guilty of a felony crime.”
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That admission by a company official on the stand at trial is what attorneys felt swayed the Florida jury to award the multimillion-dollar sum.
Santa Rosa County Correctional facility, located near Pensacola, hired Armor Correctional Health Services to provide medical services to county jail inmates. This contract was in place between 2012 and 2018. Williamson died in 2016.
“The biggest hurdle was making sure we found people that understood that even though you’re in jail, jail is a temporary place for innocent people that haven’t been proven guilty, in large part,” Zarzaur said. “Those people deserve reasonable healthcare. So we need to make sure we find a jury that’s going to believe that people that are in jail deserve reasonable health care despite being in jail.”
In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, Florida House Rep. Angie Nixon and Florida Sen. Tracie Davis voiced their concerns over Armor Correctional Health Services, which manages jail medical facilities around the country.
Zarzaur Law brought the suit on behalf of Williamsons’ husband, Bobby, and her children, arguing that Armor’s neglect and delay in transfer to the emergency room caused Williamson’s death.
“Imagine managed care where you don’t have to answer to anybody. That’s what Armor [Correctional Health Services] was doing,” Zarzaur said. “They were applying managed care principles to a population that has no right to complain. So what do you think is going to happen with a managed care company that has absolutely no pushback, ever?”
Defense Counsel Francesco Zincone and Eduardo Bertran of Armas Bertran Zincone in Miami did not return emails for comment by press time.
At trial, Armor claimed Williamson’s health declined only in the last day, upon which they immediately transferred her, and they promptly attended to her before that.
On Aug. 15, the jury ruled in the plaintiff’s favor, awarding Williamson’s estate $16 million, including $6 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages.
“I’m so happy this courageous family finally gets some closure for the tragic loss of their wife and mother,” Zarzaur said.
According to published reports, Armor Correctional Health Services has been sued in federal court about 570 times since the company’s founding in 2004, according to federal court records and the company’s log. The lawsuits include accusations of medical malpractice, wrongful deaths and employment issues.
In July the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office moved to end its contract with Armor Correctional Healthcare, Sheriff T.K. Waters said. The announcement came after Armor Correctional Health Services, which was contracted to Duval County jail, became subject to a state investigation.
Russell Dohan, plaintiff co-counsel in the Williamson case said, “Our hope is that the actions taken by us and others nationwide make these correctional health care providers pay more attention to the needs of the people under their care, who have no other choice when it comes to where to get their health care.”
Original Article: https://www.law.com/dailybusinessreview/2023/08/28/jury-awards-16m-after-miami-business-admits-to-felony-conviction (License Obtained for Reprint)