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Georgia Widow Files Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against U.S. Government

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The widow of a Mexican citizen who died while in immigration custody in southern Georgia is suing the government for $1 million in a wrongful death lawsuit, reported the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on behalf of Sara Hernandez-Gonzalez last Tuesday in federal court, claiming that the federal government’s negligence was responsible for the widow’s late husband’s death from myocarditis, an inflammatory heart disease.

Died While in Custody

Roberto Medina-Martinez, a 39-year old native of Mexico, had been arrested in North Carolina in January of 2009 for speeding and driving without a license. He was transferred to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Stewart County, where he was held for just over a month before he died on March 11, at the St. Francis Hospital in Columbus.

Under ICE policy, all detainees must receive physical examinations and have a physician sign off on their exam reports when they are admitted. According to the plaintiff’s attorneys, Medina-Martinez’s medical report was not reviewed or signed off by a physician. Additionally, they claim, Mr. Medina-Martinez had been administered an abnormal chest x-ray, which had never received appropriate follow-up care.

“The government’s failure to provide proper medical treatment of Mr. Medina breached the applicable standard of care and was negligent,” the lawsuit alleges. 

“With this lawsuit, we take the next step to seek justice for the widow and family of Roberto Medina-Martinez,” said attorney Brian Spears. “We contend that Mr. Medina’s death could have been prevented and that he died as a result of systematic neglect by certain medical professionals at the Stewart Detention Center.”

Claim Refused by ICE

Last September, ICE rejected a previous $1 million claim from Ms. Hernandez-Gonzales, citing “fail(ure) to establish that any negligent or wrongful act or omission of a federal government employee caused this alleged accident.”

Declining to comment on the lawsuit, an ICE spokesperson instead said that his agency had recently made “significant reforms (…) to the immigration detention system and health care management. ICE is committed to providing all detainees in our care with timely, safe, humane and appropriate treatment, which includes medical and mental health care. ICE has developed a system of service delivery and oversight to ensure that this occurs.”

What is Wrongful Death?

Used as a legal term, wrongful death refers to a death that was caused by the negligent or deliberate act by an individual or a company. Wrongful deaths can occur in many different ways, including the following:

In Georgia, wrongful death lawsuits are usually filed by the spouse of the deceased. In cases where the decedent was unmarried or had no living spouse, the decedent’s children may file a lawsuit. If the deceased had no living spouse or children, surviving parents have the right to pursue a claim for wrongful death.

Has Someone’s Negligence Caused You to Lose a Loved One?

Has someone close to you passed away, due to the negligent or harmful acts of another person or company? You may be entitled to compensation for the loss of your loved one. Georgia law allows surviving family members to collect the value of the life of the decedent, as well as damages for pain and suffering, economic losses and punitive damages. Contact our attorneys today for a free consultation.

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