Virginia: Wrongful Death – A Lawyer’s Ulcers

On November 16, 2016, United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued an unpublished per curiam opinion in Morris v. Bland, No. 15-1115, which affirmed a jury verdict for Plaintiff for $2,950,000.00 for survival and wrongful death claims, $500,000.00 in compensatory damages and $2,450,000.00 in punitive damages against 5 Defendants. Id. at 3, 9-10, and 20. Morris is a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. §1983 for deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of a detention center inmate. Id. at 3, 9. The victim died from untreated ulcer-related gastrointestinal bleeding. Id. at 8.

            Morris observed re deliberate indifference: “Based on the obviousness of an inmate’s medical need, a jury is permitted to conclude that the prison officers knew of the risk of harm to the inmate. Moreover, a factfinder may conclude that the official’s response…was so patently inadequate to justify an inference that the official actually recognized that his response to the risk was inappropriate under the circumstances”. Id. at 15 (citations and quotations omitted).

Upholding punitive damages, Morris observed that “deliberate indifference… satisfies the [punitive damages] requirement that their conduct involve reckless or callous indifference”. Id. at 17. Moreover, Morris readily found that the punitive damage awards were not excessive. Id. at 17-18.