N.H. inmate sues prison doctors, nurses over post-surgery infection

Last modified: Friday, August 02, 2013
A Sunapee man sent to prison in 2009 after a drunken driving crash that killed a woman has filed a federal lawsuit against doctors and nurses at the state prison, claiming they violated his civil rights by failing to properly treat an infection he developed after surgery.

Eric Warner, now 38, lost a leg after he drove a car off Harding Hill Road in Sunapee and into a tree. His passenger, 26-year-old Emily Brown of Sunapee, was dead by the time the police found them in the early hours of Jan. 15, 2009.

Later that year, Warner pleaded guilty to negligent homicide and was sentenced to 7½ to 15 years in prison, with 2½ years of his minimum sentence deferred on the condition that he undergo substance abuse treatment after his release.

After going to prison, Warner required hip replacement surgery. In a lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Concord, Warner said he developed an infection following the procedure: methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, better known as MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant staph infection often seen in hospital patients.

His lawsuit claims medical staff at the state prison in Concord “were aware of this infection, a serious medical condition, but were deliberately indifferent to this condition.” The lawsuit says medical personnel failed to monitor or adequately treat it, refused to give him pain medication, stopped administering an anti-clotting drug and gave Warner aspirin despite the fact that he’s allergic to it, “and otherwise exhibited a deliberate indifference” to his condition.

According to separate filings in Sullivan County Superior Court, Warner’s replacement hip was removed because of sepsis, and he’s now unable to get out of bed or move around in a wheelchair without assistance.

The lawsuit filed this week claims the “deliberate indifference” of medical personnel at the prison was “the direct and proximate cause of specific, serious and permanent bodily and psychological harm, pain and suffering,” and violated Warner’s rights under federal law and the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits “cruel and unusual punishments.”

The lawsuit was filed against two doctors, an advanced registered nurse practitioner, a nurse practitioner and an unspecified number of unnamed people. All are identified as “employees and/or agents of the Department of Corrections” responsible for medical care at the prison, though the state government itself isn’t a defendant.

Department of Corrections spokesman Jeff Lyons said the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation. The attorney general’s office had no immediate comment on the case.

Warner will be eligible for parole starting in August 2014. He sought early release from prison on the basis of his medical problems, but was denied medical parole last year.

He was sued in 2010 by Brown’s estate. The lawsuit, which was filed in Sullivan County Superior Court, sought damages from him and from the operators of Cafe Andre, the Sunapee restaurant where he had been drinking alcohol the night of Jan. 14, 2009.

The restaurant operators settled the case with no judgement on either side, according to court files. Warner agreed this year, in a settlement signed May 21, to pay $100,000, but Brown’s estate agreed to seek collection of the money only if Warner someday has income beyond his Social Security disability benefits.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)