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Hospital and police investigated over alleged wrongful death

A homeless woman who sought medical treatment for a sprained ankle died last September while in police custody. Outrage is growing over her death after video tapes have been released showing her moaning and screaming, then being dragged and locked into a cell where she died. The family is now pursuing independent investigations to identify all responsible individuals and entities.

Prior to the arrest, the 29-year-old woman complained of leg pain and had sought out treatment from three different hospitals in the area. She was arrested for trespassing, handcuffed, wheeled out of the hospital and taken to jail. Her autopsy shows that the death was caused by blood clots that formed in her legs and migrated to her lungs.

The doctor at the emergency room released her into police custody saying that she was healthy enough to be behind bars. Law enforcement officials are claiming that they had no way of knowing that she was in a fatal condition. Legally, the health and well-being of a prisoner is the duty of the police, holding cell operators or correctional facility once in custody. The hospital also has the duty to ensure that patients are safely released.

While the hospital acknowledges the outrage and tragedy of the event, it also claims that the staff followed requisite procedures and guidelines and performed appropriate tests given her symptoms and conditions. According to their statement, blood clots can still go undetected, even using the most advanced and sophisticated technology.

The hospital also makes the following statement: "Emergency departments across the country are often a place of last resort for many people in our society who suffer complex social problems that become medical issues when they are not addressed." Given the gravity of the woman's condition, it is unknown how the the social problems or her homelessness impacted the level of care or treatment.

Many experts and professionals believe that the young mother was treated unfairly and that her death was the direct result of lack of due care, poor treatment and negligence. The family could succeed in a wrongful death claim against the hospital for medical negligence and improper care. They may also bring a claim against police officers jail operators who were responsible for her care at the time of death.

Source: U.S. News, "Hospital: Mom booted from ER who died in jail was treated appropriately," March 29, 2012.

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