ICE Detainee’s Widow Files Georgia Wrongful Death Suit

This past Tuesday, Sara Hernandez-Gonzales filed a Georgia wrongful death lawsuit for $1 million against the federal government for the death of her husband, 39 year old Roberto Medina-Martinez, in a Georgia Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center. The suit was filed in the US District Court for the Middle District of Georgia. Mr. Medina-Martinez, a Mexican citizen, was arrested in January 2009 and sent to the ICE detention center in Stewart County. He fell ill at the detention center and was eventually taken to St. Francis Hospital in Columbus, Georgia. He died on March 11, 2009, of myocarditis–an inflammation of the heart muscle. According to the allegations in the lawsuit, his widow believes Mr. Medina-Martinez’s death was due to the negligence of the federal officials.

justice.jpgICE, under the US Department of Homeland Security, has a policy that every detainee gets a medical exam which is signed by a doctor. The complaint in this case asserts that Mr. Medina-Martinez never had such an exam, thus breaching the duty of care to which he was owed. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution filed a Freedom of Information Act request for his medical records and discovered that ICE gave him a “good” health rating. But the report also confirms that no doctor reviewed or signed this health report. Further, ICE records show that Mr. Medina-Martinez’s X-rays were abnormal but assessed as normal, even though they were not passed on for review by a doctor. The lawsuit alleges that, because of this, the medical staff at the Stewart County Detention Center did not give Mr. Medina-Martinez proper medical care which led to his death.

Last fall ICE rejected a settlement claim for $1 million, saying that there was no evidence of negligence on the part of any government officer. An ICE spokesperson refused to comment on Ms. Hernandez-Gonzalez’s lawsuit, but told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that that Secretary Napolitano issued a directive to do a comprehensive review of the detention system soon after her appointment in early 2009. He also said that “significant reforms” have been made to the detention system and health care management for immigration detainees like Mr. Medina-Martinez. It was noted that ICE is committed “to providing all detainees in our care with timely, safe, humane and appropriate treatment, which includes medical and mental health care. ICE has developed a system of service delivery and oversight to ensure that this occurs.”

Our Atlanta wrongful death lawyers know that respecting one’s duty of care is especially important when another person’s life is directly in another’s hands, such as with doctors or when an individual is in custody. Here, those responsible for Mr. Medina-Martinez were required to make sure he got adequate medical care, and in this case, it seems he may have died unnecessarily because he fell through the cracks in our immigration detention system.

If a family member has died due to the negligence, recklessness, or intentional actions of another, you may be entitled to damages. Georgia law is clear in provided recover in these cases for “full value of the life of the decedent without deducting for any of the necessary or personal expenses of the decedent had he lived.” Call the experienced Atlanta wrongful death lawyers at Sammons & Carpenter at 404-814-8949 or fill out our confidential case evaluation form online to see how we can help.

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