By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The city of Havre and Hill County have settled a lawsuit that claimed Havre police and Hill County detention officers were negligent for not seeking treatment for an injured man in their custody.
The lawsuit said Glenn Farinas suffered severe brain damage after he'd fallen and hit his head, and that police and detention officers didn't immediately seek medical treatment for him.
The lawsuit said detention officers finally sought medical attention for Farinas when they couldn't revive him 31 hours after he arrived at the jail.
Hill County settled the suit with a payment of $450,000, while the city of Havre paid $325,000, their attorneys said. Hill County's and Havre's insurers are responsible for the payment.
The county reached an out-of-court settlement in January. State District Judge Marc Buyske of Shelby subsequently ruled that the city had violated Montana law when the officers did not seek medical attention for Farinas. He also ruled against Farinas' request for punitive damages and his claim that the city had violated his civil rights. The city reached a settlement a few weeks after that.
Mark Higgins, the Great Falls attorney who represented Hill County, said the decision to settle was made by Hill County's insurer, the Montana Association of Counties. The county believes it would have won the suit, and the settlement was made to avoid additional court costs, he said.
"The county vehemently denies any liability," Higgins said. "It was going to cost a lot of money to defend it."
He added that the county also wanted to avoid the possibility of a jury finding in favor of Farinas and awarding him much more han the $450,000 the county settled for.
Higgins said the county maintains that there was no way the detention center staff could have known Farinas had a blood clot.
"When he was brought into the county jail, obviously nobody had any idea that this guy had an epidural hematoma. We thought he was drunk," Higgins said, adding that "99.9999 percent of the time the person sleeps it off and wakes up with a hangover."
Havre's attorney, Kevin Meek of Great Falls, said the city also disputes its liability.
"I think the officers in this case did a great job," he said. "If these guys had thought for one moment he had suffered a life altering injury, they would have taken him to the hospital."
Part of the decision to settle was the possible size of the damages Farinas could have been awarded, he said. The estimated cost of future care for Farinas is millions of dollars, with other damages possible, he said.
"Even though the city viewed this as a no-liability case, the risks, if you were wrong, were very high," Meek said.
He added that the city felt the "lion's share" of liability would have rested on the county. But trying to assign liability to a party that has already settled is very complicated in Montana, Meek said.
"The law is not fully resolved," he added.
The lawsuit said two Havre officers responded to a call from a Havre business at 7:20 a.m. on May 29, 2000. The caller said a man who was apparently intoxicated had fallen and hit his head, and the caller thought medical attention was necessary, the suit said.
The officers found Farinas disoriented, unable to give clear responses to questions, and unable to stand without help, the suit said. An examination of Farinas by the officers found no apparent injuries beyond abrasions near one elbow and on a hand, and an abrasion under one eye, the document said.
Farinas, now 44, was arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct and was taken to the county jail, the suit said. Montana law and the detention center's policies required that Farinas should immediately have been taken for medical treatment, the lawsuit said.
Farinas was taken to Northern Montana Hospital when detention officers could not wake him about 31 hours after he was jailed, the lawsuit said.
A CT scan revealed he had an epidural hematoma, a blood clot inside his skull but outside of his brain, the lawsuit said.
Farinas was transported to a Great Falls hospital, where emergency surgery removed the clot, the document said. It said he suffers from loss of memory, learning difficulties and physical difficulties, including problems maintaining his balance, as a result of the blood clot.
At the time his brother, Gary Farinas of Havre, filed the lawsuit on his behalf in September 2002, Glenn Farinas was living at a group home in Missoula. He now lives with his brother, who is Glenn Farinas' guardian and conservator. Glenn Farinas' children, 18-year-old Jeremy Farinas and 14-year-old Cameron Farinas of California, were later added as plaintiffs in the suit.
Glenn Farinas' lawyers were not available for comment.
The lawsuit sought punitive damages and payment for pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of wages and for medical expenses.