Pa. prison inmate sues over alleged failure to detect spinal abscess

By Jon Campisi | Dec 21, 2011

A Pennsylvania prison inmate who claims that prison medical staff failed to properly and timely diagnosis a spinal abscess that eventually led to the man having to have surgery has filed a federal complaint against those entrusted to his care while behind bars.

Peter D’Agostino, who was incarcerated at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility in February 2010 for a parole violation, alleges in his complaint that the failure on the part of prison medical staff to discover an abscess that had been growing on his spine confined him to a wheelchair, caused searing pain to radiate throughout his body, prevented him from sleeping and, eventually, required that he undergo a surgical procedure to drain the buildup of fluid that had accumulated in his back.

The lawsuit, which was filed Dec. 19 at federal court in Philadelphia by attorneys Jonathan H. Feinberg and Dana L. Bazelon, names as defendants Montgomery County; Blue Bell, Pa.-based Correctional Medical Care Inc.; Margaret Carrillo, listed as the medical director for CMC; a CMC nurse and a CMC physician’s assistant, both of whom are unidentified.

CMC, according to the lawsuit, was contracted with the county prison system from 2007 to 2010 to provide medical service to inmates.

According to the lawsuit, D’Agostino began to experience back pain and feverish feelings shortly after being incarcerated at the county prison in February 2010.

D’Agostino sought immediate medical attention, in which it was believed by staff that the inmate had been suffering from a urinary tract infection.

Between Feb. 10 and 19 of last year, D’Agostino was seen by medical staff on multiple occasions, since his symptoms, which included severe back pain, fever and difficulty moving his lower extremities, continued to worsen, the suit claims.

Lab testing revealed that D’Agostino’s white blood cell count had increased over time, an indicator that an infection was present.

Medical staff eventually realized that no urinary tract infection was present, yet they continued to treat D’Agostino for the same, the suit claims.

Despite the ongoing problems, the suit states, the physician’s assistant and nurse working with CMC never requested that a comprehensive physical and/or neurological examination of D’Agostino be done, the lawsuit claims.

On Feb. 19, 2010, two days after defendant Carrillo saw that D’Agostino had been confined to a wheelchair, Carrillo referred the plaintiff for emergency diagnosis and treatment, which took place at Mercy Suburban Hospital in Norristown, Pa., the complaint states.

An MRI revealed that D’Agostino had been suffering from a spinal abscess. He was then taken to Temple University Hospital in downtown Philadelphia where he underwent surgery to drain the abscess, the suit states.

He had to be hospitalized until March 9, 2010.

D’Agostino went on to receive outpatient rehabilitation services, and to this day he continues to suffer from limitations due to his spinal cord injury, such as difficulty walking without assistance, pain and discomfort, and difficulty voiding his bladder, which has caused him to have to catheterize himself multiple times a day, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit contains various constitutional and negligence claims against the defendants.

D’Agostino seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, in addition to attorney’s fees and other court costs deemed appropriate.

A jury trial has been demanded.

The federal case number is 2:11-cv-07728-CMR.

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