The sister of a 42-year-old man who died of late-stage lung cancer was awarded $8.5 million on May 26 for a correctional care provider’s failure to provide care while he was incarcerated.
Bilal Hasanie Hill was transferred to Phelps County Jail in January 2020 when he began complaining of increasing pain 81 days before his eventual diagnosis, according to the complaint. Documented pain in his chest, shoulder and neck was compounded by other signs of advancing lung cancer in the following months, including a growing lymph node in Hill’s neck, a mass gaining in size, and a weight loss of 30 pounds.
Hill asked to be sent to an outside emergency room after experiencing constant pain. During Hill’s appointments with the jail’s private healthcare provider Advanced Correctional Healthcare, Dr. Arthur Bentley prescribed Hill to take Tylenol or nothing at all.
“Part of [ACH’s] business model appears to be to delay any outside care for inmates, because oftentimes inmates in county jails don’t stay very long and get transferred elsewhere,” said Charles C. Eblen of Shook, Hardy & Bacon in Kansas City, one of the plaintiff attorneys.
After his eighth medical services request, Hill was referred to a county emergency room in April 2021 before an immediate transfer to CoxHealth in Springfield, where he received a biopsy. He was discharged six days later with doctors prescribing him multiple pain medications for a diagnosis with non-small cell lung cancer with metastasis. CoxHealth staff noted that he had an estimated three months to live.
Hill died on January 14, 2021. His sister Lady Maakia Charlene Smith sued for damages on his behalf. Plaintiff attorneys provided evidence of 15 videos and other audio conversations of Hill’s virtual visits while he was incarcerated and still alive.
“You can see him literally just waste away and deteriorate right in front of your eyes,” Brandon Gutshall, another plaintiff attorney, said.
Lindsey Heinz, another plaintiff attorney, said that later in the trial, defense claimed that Hill’s condition was too far gone to improve with outside care.
“Our position, and it seemed like the jury understood it, too, was that he had the same pain in the same area, but of course once he got out he got better with the narcotics,” Lindsey Heinz, another plaintiff attorney, said.
Hill’s claims of deliberate indifference to a serious medical need against Bentley and a nurse, Dionne Kelley, and medical negligence against ACH, Bentley and Kelley, prevailed after four hours of jury deliberation.
Tad Eckenrode represented the defendants. While he respects the jury’s verdict, he said in an email that it was motivated by sympathy more than evidence that supported the defense, particularly for Kelley, who contacted Bentley each time she saw Hill.
“She literally did all she could legally do,” he wrote.
Eckenrode said ACH is exploring post-trial and appellate options.
$8.5 MILLION VERDICT
■ Breakdown: $5,000,000 compensatory damages, $2,625,000 in punitive damages against Bentley, $875,000 in punitive damages against Kelley, $5,000,000 in past noneconomic damages, $2,625,000 in punitive damages against Bentley and AHC, $875,000 in punitive damages against Kelley and AHC
■ Venue: U.S. District Court for Eastern District of Missouri
■ Case Number/Date: 4:20-cv-00804/May 26, 2022
■ Judge: John M. Bodenhausen
■ Plaintiffs’ Experts: Dr. Nathaniel Evans (correctional care); Dr. David Mahew, Boston (Radiation oncology).
■ Defendants’ Experts: Kathryn J. Wild (nursing); Dr. Mauri Markman (medical oncology); Dr. Alfred Tinger (radiation oncology); Dr. Alfred Joshua (correctional care)
■ Injuries: delayed care and diagnosis of late-stage lung cancer
■ Caption: Lady Maakia Charlene Smith, personal representative of the Estate of Bilal Hasanie Hill, deceased, v. Dr. Arthur Bentley, Dionne Kelley and Advanced Correctional Healthcare, Inc.
■ Plaintiffs’ Attorneys: Brandon Gutshall, Charles C. Eblen and Lindsey Heinz, Shook Hardy & Bacon, Kansas City
■ Defendants’ Attorneys: Tad Eckenrode and Lisa H. Howe, Eckenrode Maupin, St. Louis