The Rafi Law Firm obtained a six-figure settlement for a client who was injured during a prison transport while incarcerated by the Georgia Department of Corrections and needed a spinal fusion surgery. Above is a picture of the van our client was in when he was injured.
Our Client’s Story
Our client, John, was incarcerated at Patton Detention Center, a small prison in south Georgia. In the early morning hours of December 18, 2014, the Department of Corrections (DOC) was transporting John from Patton Detention Center to Valdosta State Prison. The driver, a DOC prison guard, was driving John and another inmate in the van shown above.
John and the other inmate were shackled between their hands and feet, so they essentially could not move their hands more than a few inches from their bodies. Before the drive, John asked the DOC employee to seatbelt him, but the DOC employee ignored him. During the drive, the DOC employee lost control of the van and the van fishtailed. As the van fishtailed from side to side, John could not use his hands to stop himself from being thrown inside the van. John was thrown to the passenger side of the van and fell into the area where you step into and out of the van.
John suffered a herniated vertebrae, and after being released from prison the following month, he had surgery on his neck. The surgery, known as a fusion, is when two or more vertebrae are fused together so the spine is structurally sound. A fusion surgery, even if successful, limits mobility and has long-lasting side effects. Here is a digital image of John’s spine after the surgery—all the screws and metal are a result of his fusion surgery:
We filed a lawsuit on behalf of John and against the DOC. Suing a governmental agency is not easy because there are many technical requirements that you must meet, unless you lose your right to file the lawsuit (it is important that you have a lawyer who understands the requirements, and different requirements apply whether you sue the State, a county, or government agency). The lawsuit was filed in Lowndes County, because that is where the van was traveling when John was injured.
The Department of Correction’s Story
We conducted depositions, or formal interviews under oath, of the DOC driver, his supervisor, and a jail-house doctor who treated John.
The DOC claimed that he did put seatbelts on John and the other inmate. The DOC driver denied that he ever lost control of the van. He said that at some point in the drive, the van swerved but that was it, thenhe turned around, kindly asked the two inmates if they were okay, they said yes, and everyone continued along with no problems.
The DOC jailhouse doctor, though, confirmed that John reported he was injured in the van ride. The doctor treated John for about a month for back and neck injuries, and then John was released from prison.
The Other Inmate’s Story
To prove that the driver did lose control of the van, that the inmates were not seatbelted, and that John was injured, we deposed the other inmate who was in the van. The toughest part about that witness was actually finding him—it took us months to find him at first, and then we lost contact with him, only to find him again months later. And, when we found him for a second time, he was actually in a county jail. We made arrangements and took his deposition at the county jail where he was being held. This is a picture of our “star” witness:
In spite of the “star” witness’ appearance, which may not have instilled confidence in a jury, he was well-spoken and his testimony aligned with what John said happened. The witness said neither he nor John were seatbelted, that the driver did lose control of the van, and that John was thrown into the walls and then down by the steps. The witness said he even remembered having screamed some choice words at the driver, such as you are going to kill us, with some expletives included.
The lawsuit ended when the DOC offered to settle the case for approximately 10 times the amount of John’s medical bills. It was a life-changing amount of money for John, and a recovery our firm is proud of obtaining for him. John plans to take a cross-county RV trip next spring and is currently looking to buy land in south Georgia.