July 4, 2021

Washington State has agreed to pay $3.25 million to the family of a 57-year-old prison inmate who died from an abdominal incisional wound following cancer surgery that the prison medical staff failed to properly treat and for which he was only provided over-the-counter Tylenol for his excruciating pain. The prisoner was in severe pain during 26 days before his death on August 28, 2018, due to undiagnosed septic shock, acute pancreatitis, and a perforated intestine.

A prison nurse was concerned about the buildup of fluids in the prisoner’s abdomen but the prison medical director refused to transfer the prisoner to the hospital. As the prisoner’s condition continued to deteriorate, he became unable to eat. Nonetheless, the prison medical staff failed to provide him with intravenous fluids for more than a day, which led to dehydration and clammy skin. He was finally transferred to the hospital.

The allegedly unqualified prison medical director was fired in April 2019 following an internal Department of Corrections investigation that concluded that the medical care she provided and supervised contributed to the suffering of six prisoners and the deaths of three of them.

The prisoner’s widow stated after the settlement was announced, “John was treated inhumanely and suffered terribly before he died. The Department told me nothing about Dr. Barnett failing to provide basic medical care to John or that it caused his death. No family member of an inmate should be kept in the dark the way the Department kept me in the dark about John.”

The former prison medical director also issued a statement: “My heart goes out to Mrs. Kleutsch for her loss, and I too am saddened by the death of a patient I knew well. In my opinion, she sued the correct party. By its actions in replacing me with 3 physicians, DOC has acknowledged the unacceptable level of risk it placed solely on my shoulders. Systemically, the DOC chose to have too few providers, despite my and the inmates’ begging for more. I am happy to see Mrs. Kleutsch obtain justice.”


The Washington Medical Commission indefinitely suspended the license of the former prison medical director in November 2020, citing evidence of inadequate care that harmed incarcerated people, including charges of “incompetence, negligence, or malpractice which results in injury to a patient or creates an unreasonable risk that a patient may be harmed … ”


No one – including those incarcerated – should ever be subject to inhumane failure to provide necessary, appropriate, and timely medical care. Needless suffering is needless suffering whether it occurs in a prison or in the outside world.

If you or a loved one were injured due to deliberate indifference or the lack of appropriate medical care while incarcerated in a prison, jail, or other correctional facility in Washington or in another U.S. state, you should promptly seek the legal advice of a local medical malpractice lawyer in your state who handles prisoner/inmate medical malpractice claims and may investigate your claim and represent you, if appropriate.

Visit our website or call us toll-free in the United States at 800-295-3959 to be connected with prisoner medical malpractice lawyers in your state who may assist you.

Turn to us when you don’t know where to turn.