Schmidt, Sethi & Akmajian Blog

US Supreme Court Allows California Prison Covid-19 Death Claims to Go Forward

Posted by Dev Sethi | May 17, 2024 | 0 Comments

In a significant legal development, the Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal from California prison officials seeking immunity from lawsuits related to the deadly COVID-19 outbreak at San Quentin in May 2020. The court's decision, issued without comment or dissent, allows lawsuits from families of deceased inmates and infected staff to proceed.

The controversy centers on the transfer of 122 inmates from the COVID-stricken California Institution for Men in Chino to San Quentin, which had no known cases at the time. This transfer led to a massive outbreak, infecting over 2,100 inmates and 270 staff members, and resulted in the deaths of 26 prisoners and one guard, Sgt. Gilbert Polanco.

State lawmakers harshly criticized the transfer decision, labeling it as a "fiasco" and "abhorrent." The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals previously ruled that prison officials' actions constituted "deliberate indifference," a standard that holds officials liable for failing to protect inmates from known dangers.

Attorney Michael J. Haddad, representing the affected families, emphasized that the state's appeal being denied at the highest level ensures accountability for the tragic outcomes. The plaintiffs argue that prison officials failed to take necessary precautions during the transfer, resulting in preventable deaths and infections.

The principle of qualified immunity, often protecting law enforcement officers from lawsuits, was deemed inapplicable by both the federal courts and the Supreme Court in this case. The legal proceedings will now focus on holding prison officials accountable for their management of the COVID-19 crisis, setting a significant precedent for similar cases in the future.

About the Author

Dev Sethi

Dev Sethi litigates and tries a wide-range of complex injury and death cases throughout Arizona. He has Martindale Hubbell's highest rating, AV, and he is listed in "Best Lawyers." Dev is also recognized as an Arizona Super Lawyer in the area of plaintiff's products liability litigation.Dev has been at the forefront of auto product defect litigation. He played a key role in uncovering the Goodyear Load Range E tire scandal and worked to hold Ford Motor Company responsible for the danger posed by their now notorious 15-passenger vans. Dev is currently representing families in product liability suits against the nation's largest corporations including General Motors, Ford, Pentair Pools and Invacare.


There are no comments for this post. Be the first and Add your Comment below.

Leave a Comment

Our team works together - for you!

Our award-winning lawyers are backed by a talented, caring team of legal professionals, paralegals, bilingual assistants, notaries, and others - all dedicated to you, your case, and the compensation you deserve.

No fees and no costs until we win.

As such we always have your case and your best interest in mind. When you win, we win too by providing the best legal care possible.

Thorough investigation and preparation.

We tirelessly and thoughtfully prepare every case we represent as though it was going to trial. This lets insurance companies know that we are a force to be reckoned with. As such, we settle successfully 98% of the time.