Coffee Creek faces $7.5 million wrongful death lawsuit
In January 2018, Coffee Creek Correctional Facility inmate Tina Ferri died in a hospital bed after the prison suffered a flu outbreak in the inmate population. Now, the Oregon Department of Corrections may be headed to court over the incident.
Mistina Ferri, Tina Ferri's daughter, filed a wrongful death lawsuit Dec. 10 for a maximum of $7.5 million against the State of Oregon and the ODOC.
According to the lawsuit, Coffee Creek bought 519 flu shots for a population of 1,645 inmates. And when influenza spread across the prison, some inmates who contracted the flu, including Tina, were quarantined in their cells because the prison's infirmary was full and most inmates who received a flu shot were given them after they had contracted the flu. According to the lawsuit, the prison didn't provide Tina a flu shot and kept her confined to her cell even after her husband called them asking them to perform a welfare check and after Tina coughed up blood. Tina was sent to the hospital three days after first coughing up blood and subsequently died of organ failure Jan. 15 at 53 years old.
Coffee Creek declined an interview request for this story.
"Tina Ferri's medical records prove that the prison did not deliver a flu shot to her. The notes from Tina Ferri's hospital doctor said her death was 'set in motion due to an influenza A infection with staph superinfection,'" the lawsuit reads. "A medical professional will testify that Tina Ferri had no reason not to get a flu shot, and that more likely than not, she would not have been harmed by severe flu symptoms and later died of organ failure on January 15, 2018 if the prison had given her a flu shot."
According to the lawsuit, ODOC "violated the safety rule requiring prisons to organize and coordinate policies to deliver flu shots to as many inmates as possible," and also failed to adhere to "appropriate professional standards" related to providing flu shots or provide "full and fair compensation for the harm it caused to Tina Ferri."
OlsenDaines partner Michael Fuller, Mistina's lead attorney, specializes in class action lawsuits against banks and corporations, and said Mistina had trouble finding a lawyer to take the case due to the expense of hiring medical experts and other professionals that he said are needed.
"It costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire experts and put on a wrongful death case and the family can't afford to pay for that," Fuller said. "We have the resources to do it. We do class actions that cost millions of dollars."
Fuller said Coffee Creek has not responded to communication from attorneys.
"They've refused to talk to use about the incident," he said. "They charged us every time we requested documents and provided almost nothing except for what we already had."
Fuller said there is no evidence that Tina received any medical treatment prior to going to the emergency room, even after she began coughing up blood. According to the lawsuit, inmates are forbidden from administering their own healthcare by Oregon law.
"I assume they (the defendants) are going to argue that even if they had given a (flu) shot, it would not guarantee that she wouldn't have died," he said.
Fuller said the $7.5 million figure is within the range of similar lawsuits filed against correctional departments and he does not know when or if the case will go to trial.
According to an October Willamette Week article, Coffee Creek has recently taken steps to inform inmates about flu vaccination options and provided instructions for women who want vaccination. State Senator Sara Gelser is planning to propose legislation that would require prisons to give flu shots to every inmate at the 2019 legislative session.
"When a prison does not develop policies to deliver flu shots to as many inmates as possible, the odds skyrocket that the flu will spread throughout the inmate population, and that one or more inmates will needlessly be harmed by severe flu symptoms or death," the lawsuit reads.