The family of Desiree Diaz, who died aged 33 in 2018 after spending a night at York Correctional Institution in East Lyme, have pushed back against state efforts to dismiss her medical malpractice lawsuit.
Judge Steven Jacobs denied the state attorney general’s office’s motion to dismiss the case on September 16.
Diaz’s mother, Katherine Lindsay, is represented by civil rights attorney Ken Krayeske of Hartford.
The attorney general’s office decided to dismiss the complaint in March because Lindsay’s expert, endocrinologist Robert J. Cooper, did not work in the specific field of correctional nursing.
Amy L. Caturano, a nurse at York, performed the admission screening on Diaz. The lawsuit alleges that Caturano failed to properly assess Diaz.
The state argued in its motion to dismiss Lindsay’s lawsuit, that the lawsuit does not offer the opinion of a registered nurse but of a board-certified endocrinologist who believes Diaz was denied proper medical care. only for ‘not having his thyroid levels checked when he entered (York CI).’”
The attorney general’s motion added that Cooper does not list any of his credentials, training or experience, other than that he is board-certified in endocrinology.
He adds that Cooper goes on to state that “in (his) capacity as a board-certified endocrinologist” he believes Diaz was denied proper medical attention solely for “not having his thyroid levels monitored upon entering (York THIS)”.
Judge Jacobs strongly rejected the state’s argument in his 14-page memorandum last week.
He wrote that Dr. Cooper is a clinical endocrinologist who is board certified in endocrinology and internal medicine and is licensed to practice medicine in the state of Connecticut. Jacobs added that Cooper also trained registered nurses and has nursing education and experience, calling himself a “similar healthcare provider” in the case.
The trial can now continue.
The family say the decision is a ‘huge victory’
Amber Diaz of Groton, Desiree’s sister, told The Day on Tuesday that the rejection of the motion to dismiss has brought some peace to the family.
“For me personally, it was a huge victory. It’s being able to prepare and go into battle instead of waiting to see like, ‘OK, is this going to happen?’ “, Diaz said. “To see that they wanted to reject him, it was heartbreaking. Now, to be able to have even a small victory – I understand we’re in an all-out war, and I feel like that was just one of the first battles.
Elizabeth Benton, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, wrote in an email that her office was reviewing the judge’s decision “and assessing next steps.”
Although the court has yet to determine what happens next in the case, Krayeske said his team will wait to see what the state does next. He expects the state to file a response to the initial complaint, and then for discovery to begin.
The lawsuit describes the last hours of Diaz’s life.
Groton Town police arrested resident Diaz for breach of the peace, third-degree assault and breach of a protective order on June 3, 2018 after saying she was intoxicated and that she physically assaulted the father of her two children. While dealing with alcohol withdrawal in custody, she fell into a coma and eventually died due to her underactive thyroid.
After an autopsy, the cause of death was determined to be “sudden death in the context of chronic ethanolism (alcohol dependence) and hypothyroidism”.
Prior to his incarceration, Diaz “suffered from a thyroid condition in addition to his alcohol addiction,” Krayeske wrote in the complaint.
He said it was known information when Diaz was taken into custody because a nurse electronically signed Diaz’s medical records on the night of June 4, 2018. The next morning, Diaz was found unconscious in her prison cell.
Krayeske and Lindsay claim that Diaz “was denied proper medical treatment by not having her thyroid levels monitored, in addition to not being placed on drug rehabilitation watch,” according to the complaint.
“Ms. Diaz’s injuries and death were caused by the negligence of the Connecticut State Department of Corrections,” the complaint states. “The Connecticut State Department of Correction had a duty to provide Ms. Diaz with proper medical care and treatment…”
Amber Diaz said her sister’s death was “extremely hard” on the family. One of Desiree Diaz’s children had her prom days before her funeral. Now one of the children lives with his father in the area and the other has moved to New Mexico to be with his family.
Amber Diaz has joined and spoken with activist groups who lobby for prisoners’ rights. She said the state’s staunch refusal to admit wrongdoing in this case “has been extremely frustrating.”
“She was only there for 24 hours and she had several indicators that she was supposed to be in a medical unit,” Amber Diaz said of her sister. “She definitely should have been taken care of better. For it to have only been so short, it underscores just how bad it really is. You don’t even have to be in the system for months at a time. This neglect can happen overnight, literally.
Amber Diaz said she ultimately hopes the state will be held to account and that state law will better protect Connecticut inmates. She said she was not surprised by the state’s strenuous efforts to deny wrongdoing.
“I knew it was going to be tough, I knew it was going to be a battle, I knew things took a long time sometimes. I really knew they were going to try and fight,” she said.