$3.5M to unsuccessful suicide

Such suits are sufficiently common (e.g., Oct. 8, May 20, Jan. 31, 2003) that we can almost retire the category. Lawyers for Christopher Foster, a male prostitute who, while imprisoned, attempted to hang himself but only managed to self-inflict severe brain damage, argue that the mix-up in paperwork that resulted in his being put in a conventional cell instead of on suicide watch was a constitutional violation. While it’s perhaps too much to ask that suicides only blame themselves, most federal courts recognize that the standard for a constitutional violation is “deliberate indifference” rather than negligence. This case somehow got to trial and the City of Philadelphia is on the hook for $3.5 million (7% of the $50M Foster asked for) after a settlement. Foster won’t be conscious of the marginal difference in life-long nursing care (which one suspects is being shifted from one government expense account to another), but his lawyers, from the firm Kline & Specter (Jan. 24, 2003), will sure appreciate their seven-digit cut from taxpayers. (Joseph A. Slobodzian, “City abruptly settles suicide-prevention suit for $3.5 million”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 23; Jim Smith, “City to pay $3.5M in jail hanging case”, Philadelphia Daily News, Nov. 23).

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