$3.5M to unsuccessful suicide

by Ted Frank on November 24, 2004

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).