Judge Denies Private Jail Healthcare Providers’ Partial Motion to Dismiss Case Alleging Jail Death from Benzodiazepine Withdrawal

Budge & Heipt has successfully defeated a partial motion to dismiss filed by Correctional Healthcare Companies, Inc. and related entities in a lawsuit alleging the death of a jail inmate from benzodiazepine withdrawal.

Judge William J. Martinez of the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, in a 22-page ruling, denied a motion for partial dismissal of the case. Among other things, the court found it to be “beyond reasonable dispute that American jails and prisons routinely house . . . those with substance dependencies that cannot be abruptly ended” and that a “failure to train prison staff, and particularly medical staff, on appropriate treatment of these inmates is ‘so likely to result in the violation of constitutional rights'” that a company can be liable for failing to train its employees even in the absence of notice of repeated violations.

Indeed, drug and alcohol withdrawal in jail can be deadly. Drug withdrawal in jail can be particularly deadly when it involves withdrawal from benzodiazepine medications (“benzos”) such as Xanax, Klonopin, Ativan, Valium, and their generic equivalents. Forcing a person to go “cold turkey” from benzos or alcohol without close medical supervision, monitoring and treatment can cause a variety of symptoms leading up to and including the very real risk of death.

The case of John Patrick Walter, as alleged in the U.S. District Court lawsuit, is an example of the tragic consequences of suddenly discontinuing a jail inmate’s benzo medications and the profound withdrawal symptoms, suffering and death that can result when a person is made to go “cold turkey.” When employees or private medical providers who work at a jail demonstrate deliberate indifference by suddenly cutting a person off from his or her Xanax, Klonopin, Ativan, Valium or other benzo, or when a person in alcohol withdrawal is not properly evaluated and cared for, jail staff and the municipality or private entity operating the jail can be liable for constitutional violations leading up to and causing the person’s death from withdrawal.

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.