Attorney Jaehyun Oh obtained a $1.2 million settlement on behalf of an incarcerated 37-year-old husband and father who tragically committed suicide despite making numerous pleas for psychiatric help during the month leading up to his death.
The lawsuit alleged deliberate indifference, recklessness, carelessness, and gross negligence of the correction personnel for their failure to appropriately respond to our client’s numerous pleas for medical attention and psychiatric treatment.
Our Client’s Story
While our client was incarcerated, DOCCS failed to consider important risk factors such as his personal and familial mental health history.
Additionally, a month prior to his death, our client attempted to commit suicide in his cell, but stopped himself before there was serious injury. He reported this attempt to prison staff and nurses. Despite this, DOCCS and OMH did not classify our client as a suicide risk and neglected to provide proper psychiatric treatment or medication. As a result, our client’s mental health began to significantly deteriorate, which continued until his death.
A couple of weeks later, our client presented to the nursing unit for a second time with complaints of suicidal ideation. He was admitted to the mental health unit for observation until he was prematurely discharged the day before his death. While he was in the mental health unit, our client informed the nurses of specific risk factors that worsened his mental health and also verbally expressed active suicidal ideation multiple times. The nurses failed to transfer him to one-on-one suicide watch or a higher level of care.
On the day before his death, OMH inappropriately discharged him to the General Population of the prison where he was not closely monitored. A few hours later, the client tragically committed suicide in his cell.
Overcoming Legal Barriers: Jaehyun Oh Successfully Appealed FOIL Request Rejection
In order to fully understand a case and bring a meritorious claim forward, it is important to have access to all records that could be pertinent to the case. When working on behalf of incarcerated clients, it is also necessary to have a thorough understanding of the environment in which the incident occurred. Prison facilities often have additional documents or video footage that monitor the prison environment, which could make or break a case.
New York State has a law known as the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), which allows members of the public to request records from New York State or local government agencies. FOIL is designed to encourage transparency and accountability in the government, and it is often used to force disclosures of documents and data by public agencies, gather information and statistics for advocacy, investigate problems in the government, develop public policy, journalism and research, and prepare a potential lawsuit.
Despite the fact that FOIL requests are used to aid in the preparation of a lawsuit, when we first submitted the FOIL request, DOCCS rejected the request with little to no explanation for the rejection.
However, according to New York State law, in order for an agency to properly deny any part of a FOIL request, the agency must submit a written explanation that details their reasons for the denial or they must provide access to the records sought. Furthermore, the agency must articulate a specific justification for the rejection, which they failed to do.
In a thorough response detailing the Department of Correction’s failure to comply with protocol, Attorney Jaehyun Oh successfully appealed the FOIL rejection, which allowed our team to obtain the relevant video and records pre-suit.
As a result, we were able to perform an in-depth review of both security camera footage, photos, and other records from the prison, which allowed us to gain a thorough understanding of the correctional facility’s failure to properly address warning signs and risk factors that would have protected our client.
The Jacob Fuchsberg Law Firm consulted a highly qualified mental health expert who concluded that our client’s death was preventable had the medical staff followed correct protocol and met the applicable standard of medical care. Furthermore, Attorney Jaehyun Oh conducted a deposition of a prison doctor who conceded that our client was an evident suicide risk.
Medical and custodial staff have a responsibility to maintain the safety, health, and well-being of all persons in their custody as well as to prevent them from being subjected to undue harm or cruel and unusual punishment.
Amidst the DOC’s alarming policy change to stop informing the public when a person dies while incarcerated at a NYC prison, it is more important now than ever that correctional facilities are held accountable for their failure to provide adequate care to incarcerated populations.
At the Jacob Fuchsberg Law Firm, our Civil Rights Team led by Attorney Jaehyun Oh has a proven track record of success in pursuing claims against correctional staff, correctional facilities, and U.S. government on behalf of incarcerated persons who have sustained serious permanent injuries.
We can help when the unimaginable happens.