April 4, 2012

The surviving wife of an “undocumented” Mexican immigrant has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the U.S. government for the death of her husband while he was in the custody of  the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The federal lawsuit claims that the U.S. government failed to provide proper medical care to the man, who died from myocarditis (inflammation of the heart) that the medical malpractice lawsuit alleges should have been timely and properly diagnosed, as well as timely and properly treated, while the man was detained.

The man had been arrested in North Carolina in January, 2009, for traffic violations (driving without a license and speeding). He was transferred to an ICE detention center in North Carolina where he was supposed to receive a physical examination at the time he arrived at the facility. The report of the physical examination was supposed to be reviewed by a physician who was required to sign-off on the report. The medical malpractice claim alleges that the physical examination report for the man was not reviewed by a physician and was not signed by a physician.

An investigative report by ICE allegedly confirms that the man’s physical examination report was not reviewed or signed by a physician and that the report indicated that the man was in good health. Other ICE records purportedly state that x-rays of the man were abnormal but were read as normal and were not reviewed by a physician. The man died in a hospital on March 11, 2009, allegedly from myocarditis.

ICE had denied the medical malpractice claim filed by the man’s family. As a result, the federal medical malpractice lawsuit was filed on March 27, 2012 in the federal district court in Georgia, seeking $1 million in damages.


People who are in federal custody for alleged immigration violations should not be mistreated, including the failure to provide necessary medical care. ICE recognizes its responsibilities — a spokesman for ICE provided the following statement after the man’s medical malpractice claim was filed: [ICE]  “recognizes the importance of ensuring that all detainees receive timely and appropriate medical treatment. To ensure the highest quality health care, the ICE Health Service Corps medical facilities comply with applicable health care standards from the American Correctional Association and the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, and the ICE National Detention Standards.

“Shortly after taking office, Secretary Napolitano issued an action directive initiating a comprehensive review of ICE’s detention system. Significant reforms have been made to the immigration detention system and health care management. 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.”


The outcome of the medical malpractice case filed as a result of the man’s death may not be known for years. The claim may ultimately be dismissed, settled, or tried in the federal court. Whatever the outcome, one must wonder whether the man would be alive today had he not been arrested for traffic violations in Georgia and then transferred to ICE detention.

If you, a family member, a friend. or someone you know have been injured as a result of possible medical negligence, the assistance of a medical malpractice attorney may be essential in investigating your possible medical malpractice claim and filing a medical malpractice case on your behalf, if appropriate.

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