Federal Judge Denies County’s Effort to Dismiss Jail Death Case

A federal judge in Tacoma, Washington has denied an effort by attorneys for Pierce County, Washington to dismiss a case brought by Budge & Heipt arising from the death of a jail inmate.

The case arises from the death of Matthew Smith, a 47 year-old pretrial detainee being confined in the Pierce County Jail. Mr. Smith suffered from Crohn’s Disease. After being booked into the jail, Mr. Smith began experiencing significant symptoms from his disease. After approximately four weeks of worsening symptoms, Mr. Smith was eventually transported to a hospital for emergency care. Upon discharge from the hospital, the jail’s officers were given instructions that he should be returned to the hospital for treatment for any worsening symptoms. After his hospital discharge and return to the jail, Mr. Smith’s symptoms became markedly worse and his condition began to deteriorate. Although Mr. Smith notified jail staff of his severely-worsening symptoms, the jail did not return him to the hospital for treatment.  Even when lab results obtained in the jail indicated that Mr. Smith was in a state of emergency, the jail still did not transport him back to the hospital.  And, when Mr. Smith was eventually found lying on his cell floor in severe pain, barely unable to walk or stand, the jail staff still did not transport him back to the hospital. Instead, he was taken to the jail’s medical clinic where he died while awaiting medical treatment for over six hours.

In denying the county’s motion to dismiss, Judge Benjamin Settle wrote that the parents of Mr. Smith were entitled to assert claims for loss of society and companionship of their son under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and that claims against the county for unconstitutional policies, procedures or practices had been properly alleged.

The Tacoma News Tribune has written about the case HERE.

Defeating an early motion to dismiss a jail death case is one of the most important steps in jail death litigation.  The denial of the county’s motion will enable Mr. Smith’s parents and estate, through their attorneys, to pursue discovery against the county and obtain further evidence relating to the facts and circumstances leading up to and surrounding Mr. Smith’s tragic and preventable death.

If you or a loved one has been a victim of serious injury and/or death at the hands of police or in jail or prison, tell us about your case.