A federal judge in Oregon has approved a $10 million judgment against Washington County and Corizon Health, following the 2014 death of a woman who died in the county jail.
The settlement is the highest Corizon — a private health care company which operates in jails and prisons across the country — has ever paid in a judgment of this kind and means the company and county accept responsibility.
On April 24, 2014, Madaline Pitkin, 26, was found dead in a cell in the Washington County Jail where she was detoxing from heroin.
In 2016, Pitkin’s parents, Mary and Russell Pitkin, filed a lawsuit against Corizon and the county over their daughter’s death.
“What we wanted to accomplish with this lawsuit, was to help make change,” said Russell Pitkin, during an emotional news conference Friday in downtown Portland. “We wanted Washington County and Corizon to acknowledge that they were responsible for what happened and to make changes. There are too many of these kinds of deaths.”
Portland defense attorney David Sugerman, who didn’t work on the case, said the judgment is significant.
“The company has determined this is so risky, they would rather admit fault — which is very rare — and pay $10 million, than face the possible consequences of what a federal jury would do,” he said. “The company has admitted responsibility rather than face the wrath, the potential of a much higher outcome, a much higher verdict.”
Attorney John Coletti, one of the attorneys who represented the Pitkins, said their daughter needed basic medical care; an IV to stay hydrated while she detoxed.
“This is not cutting-edge medical care,” Coletti said. “The ability to provide an IV is not heroic on any level.”
The CEO of Corizon Steve Rector released a statement pointing out that he had not been at the company when Pitkin died.
He added that the company has gone through a significant restructuring and that the amount of the settlement “reflects how far removed the facts of this case are from our standards and expectations of care.
“For whatever small comfort this may provide, the lessons we’ve learned from this case have been catalysts for significant changes we have made and are still making to our clinical program.”
At a press conference after the settlement was announced, Madaline’s father said that his daughter “was smart, beautiful, talented, funny and a person who stood up for others. So, we felt we needed to stand up for her.”