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Court Strikes $8 million punitive award in Monroe Suicide Case

MCCF Suicide

Mumun Barbaros committed suicide at the Monroe County Correctional Facility on March 22, 2009 while awaiting trial for criminal trespass. Barbaros choked to death from the remnants of a t-shirt lodged in his throat.

Federal Lawsuit

Barbaros’ estate sued in federal District Court in Scranton. The claim was that Barbaros committed suicide because he was suffering from side effects relating to the abrupt discontinuation of the medication, Paxil.

His estate claimed the jail’s medical provider, PrimeCare Medical, Inc., and its staff, failed to properly medicate Barbaros and that “discontinuation syndrome” prompted him to kill himself.

The plaintiff released Monroe County from the case prior to trial.

Jury Trial

An eight day jury trial was held in September 2016 after which the jury returned a verdict in the total amount of $11,857,344.  The defendants filed post-trial motions which included an argument that insufficient evidence existed to support a punitive damages verdict of $8 million against the corporate defendant, PrimeCare Medical.

Post-Trial Decision

In a 271-page opinion filed on August 30, 2017, District Court Judge Robert Mariani agreed.  The court ruled that although the PrimeCare defendants may have committed medical malpractice, their actions were merely negligent. Plaintiffs failed to prove that the medical defendants were “deliberately indifferent,” which is necessary to state an 8th Amendment claim, or that their conduct supported an award of punitive damages:

“Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the Plaintiffs, no reasonable jury could conclude that PrimeCare’s acts and omissions were sufficiently outrageous and exhibited reckless disregard for the rights of others  to warrant punitive damages under Pennsylvania law.”

Accordingly, the Court struck the $8 million punitive damages award against PrimeCare. However, it did add delay damages of $466,488.04, bringing the final revised award to $3,266,488.04.

All parties will have thirty days to appeal the decision to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

Newman Williams Shareholder, Jerry Geiger, represented Monroe County in this case.

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