Michigan DOC Settles Lawsuit for $1.1 Million Following “Deliberate Indifference” to Inmate’s Fatal Breakdown

The family of inmate Kenneth Dalstra–who died from drinking too much water due to mental health issues inside a Michigan prison–recently settled their lawsuit in federal court against the Michigan Department of Corrections (DOC). The family sued three prison guards in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids for allowing their mentally unstable son to commit suicide by overdosing himself with water. According to a spokesperson from the DOC, the family received over $1 million in a settlement.

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Kenneth was 41 years old when he died of water intoxication at Richard A. Hanlon Correctional Facility. He suffered from psychogenic polydipsia, a pathological compulsion to consume water or other liquids triggered by mental illness. The lawsuit indicates that Kenneth suffered a schizophrenic breakdown in the days preceding his death. He died in April 2014 in the prison in Ionia, Michigan. He was sentenced in November 2013 to 3.5 to 75 years incarceration for criminal sexual conduct.

During a prison visit shortly before his death, Kenneth’s mother Debra allegedly conveyed to prison employees that her son needed immediate medical attention. Specifically, she cited schizophrenia, mental instability, and seizures. The lawsuit details Kenneth spraying his eyes with soap “to wash out the demons” and putting feces in his eyes in the day prior to his death.

The following day, a prison employee noticed Kenneth drinking massive quantities of water and told him to stop, but Kenneth continued drinking. The employee turned off the water and reached out to a psychologist. The psychologist reported that Kenneth’s actions were becoming increasingly unusual and placed him on suicide watch. The employee, however, turned the water back on. Kenneth continued to drink. The corrections officers set up a system in which Kenneth would be observed periodically — every 15 minutes.

Shortly before his death, the lawsuit indicates, Kenneth took off his clothes and vomited on himself. He also urinated and defecated on himself. He had been drinking water nonstop from 4 to 6 in the morning. At around 6:30 a.m., a nurse discovered him naked on his bed. He was completely unresponsive. At around 7:10 a.m., he was reported dead.

The lawsuit claims that the corrections officers displayed “deliberate indifference” to his psychological breakdown and suicidal behavior. Despite the settlement, the DOC denies these allegations.

The family initially requested a jury trial and sought an “amount in excess of $75,000” for conscious pain and suffering, attorney fees, punitive damages, and the loss to his family. Thus, the settlement appears to be a major victory for the family.

Last fiscal year, the state of Michigan paid nearly $42 million in verdicts and settlements from lawsuits. Specifically, lawsuits related to the Michigan DOC accounted for an estimated 33 percent of Michigan’s lawsuits last year. For example, the Michigan DOC is still paying out a $100 million class action settlement based on sex abuse allegations against corrections officers. If the Dalstra family’s lawsuit is any indication, Michigan is continuing to dole out large sums of money due to legal failings by its Department of Corrections. These ongoing payments demonstrate how the unlawful actions and missteps of state leaders and employees are costly for Michigan taxpayers.

The personal injury attorneys at the Neumann Law Group represent victims of accidents throughout Michigan from offices in Traverse City and Grand Rapids. Call us at (231) 463-0122 or at (616) 717-5666 for a free consultation.

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