Gwinnett jail death leads to lawsuit

The family of a female inmate who died of pneumonia at the Gwinnett County jail files suit against the sheriff, jail health care provider and staff.

"This was such an avoidable, preventable death," attorney Mark Begnaud tells the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Begnaud says Denise Forte begged a jail nurse to send her to the clinic after she was found in her cell too sick to go to breakfast on a Saturday in February, 2015.

The nurse noted Forte's resting heart rate was high and she complained she hurt all over.  Forte had a history of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The nurse administered a standard cold protocol of Tylenol, an antihistamine and an expectorant and told Forte she could see a doctor Monday.

Forte died in her cell.

Begnaud alleges negligence.  The lawsuit filed in Gwinnett County State Court claims Forte's pneumonia should have been caught and treated earlier had medical decisions outweighed cost.

The AJC reports Corizon Health, the private health care provider for the jail, is the largest for-profit provider of correctional health services in the country.

Corizon spokeswoman Martha Harbin will not comment on pending litigation but defends the quality of health care.  "One of the greatest misconceptions about our company is that we somehow benefit from providing lower quality care,” Harbin tells the AJC in an email.

"It is important to emphasize that the existence of a lawsuit is not necessarily indicative of quality of care or any wrongdoing,” Harbin adds in her statement to the AJC.

The lawsuit seeks a jury trial and unspecified damages.

An inmate at the Gwinnett County jail died last month after what is described as a medical emergency. The sheriff’s office denies claims by the inmate’s family that he was not fed properly.

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