Former Virginia inmate wins $1M in medical malpractice suit

Published: Jul. 19, 2019 at 1:01 PM EDT
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A former Virginia inmate won more than $1 million in a malpractice suit against prison medical staff he accused of improperly treating his broken finger, saying he still feels the effects.

U.S. District Court records show a jury awarded the damages to 32-year-old John Kinlaw on Thursday.

“There should be no difference in the standard of treatment between an inmate and a regular person,” said Kinlaw. “The people that mistreated me were going to be held responsible."

News outlets report he filed a suit against Armor Correctional Health Services Inc., after his release from Lunenburg Correctional Center in 2017. He says he fractured a finger bone in the prison recreation yard and medical staff only gave him an ice pack and Motrin. The suit accuses staff of ignoring X-rays that showed he could need surgery.

According to the complaint, despite weeks of Kinlaw notifying Dr. Charles Nwaokocha, contracted by ARMOR, that his hand still needed medical attention, the medical staff failed to move forward in having his hand properly stabilized or get him surgery.

The complaint details that Kinlaw informed the Armor medical staff every few days that he could not close his hand and was afraid his fracture was healing the wrong way. The complaint also states Armor - including Nurse Banks, Nurse Price and Nwaokocha - either denied or delayed any additional treatment or imaging for his hand.

In one meeting a month a and a half following his fracture, Kinlaw demonstrated to Nwaokocha that his ring finger could not bend, and in response, Nwaokocha is quoted as saying he needed “more healing.”

The complaint says Kinlaw waited over 100 days before being taken to a specialist, who confirmed his hand healed wrong.

“There are a lot of things I’ll never be able to do again,” said Kinlaw. “According to the testimony, I possibly have to get the amputation that my orthopedists have said I may have a chance to get back all of my dexterity.”

In 2017, Kinlaw contacted Nexus Services Inc, which funds medical malpractice prison cases, and they agreed to see his case.

“What we do is we take cases involving complaints about government agencies police, prisons and jails and evaluate them and refer them to a law firm to prosecute them, so we’ve been working with john now for a couple of years now,” said Nexus CEO and president Mike Donovan. “It’s very clear that they just didn’t want to spend money and perhaps that’s the ultimate irony because now they are going to have to pay over a million dollars to Mr. Kinlaw.”

Kinlaw was awarded a total settlement of $1,058,761, with $700,000 of that amount in compensatory damage and over $300,000 in punitive damages

Armor's lawyers say the jury misunderstood medical facts.

Sands Andersons attorney Edward McNelis III said Kinlaw sustained a serious injury that was not amenable to surgical intervention when he hurt his hand in an incident in the correctional facility’s exercise area.

McNelis added that the care Kinlaw received was completely appropriate and consistent with the care that he would have received if he was not an inmate in the Virginia Department of corrections.

McNelis believes that the care Mr. Kinlaw received was entirely appropriate and consistent with exactly what anyone would receive from their own doctor.

“One of the nation’s top hand surgery experts testified on behalf of the defendant doctor,” said McNelis. “The x-ray that was performed for the inmate did not reveal anything other than a small finger fracture.”

According to the Department of Justice, only five percent of medical malpractice cases go to trial with 85% of those resolved in favor of the physician.

Kinlaw said he is making goals to become an aviation mechanic, but he that he he might have to put those plans on hold depending on the amount of treatment his finger will need in the future.