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City Paid $300K to Rikers Inmate Paralyzed by Untreated Infection

 Jose Ferrer died in 2010, two years after his incarceration and the infection that rendered him paralyzed.
Jose Ferrer died in 2010, two years after his incarceration and the infection that rendered him paralyzed.
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Mitchell Shapiro

NEW YORK CITY — The city has paid $300,000 to the family of a now-deceased Rikers inmate who was left paralyzed from the waist down after doctors there failed to administer antibiotics for a severe fungal infection, according to court documents.

Jose Ferrer was incarcerated at Rikers Island in August 2008 for failing to complete a drug treatment program, according to court documents. Though he told Rikers staff he had been taking medication for an infection before he was incarcerated, they and doctors at Bellevue Hospital failed to administer antibiotics to him — allowing his infection to spread to his lumbar spine where it formed an abscess, court papers say.

"This infection was a fungal infection and they didn't diagnose it," Mitchell Shapiro, Ferrer's lawyer, told DNAinfo New York. "By the time they did it had spread too far."

Ferrer was brought to Bellevue for a scan but was returned to Rikers without having been properly treated, court papers say. A doctor said he should be tested for a fungal infection at that time time, Shapiro said, but he was not.

"He was screaming in pain at Rikers, 'My back, my back," Shapiro said. 

By November, Ferrer had begun to suffer paralysis in his lower extremities. He was brought back to Bellevue and given surgery for the fungal infection, which had spread to his lumbar spine, according to court documents. He stayed at Bellevue through February 2009 and was transferred to the Coler-Goldwater Nursing Home, where he lived until 2010, according to court documents.

"Although he walked in to Rikers on his own two feet, he never walked again," Shapiro said.

Ferrer died in 2010 at the age of 47 after a fall from his wheelchair and ongoing infections, according to his death certificate. Ferrer's son, now 10 years old, will receive the settlement in a trust after legal fees, his lawyer said.

A spokesman for the city's Law Department said that though there were allegations of failings at Rikers, where healthcare is overseen by the Health Department, the city Health and Hospitals Corporation would pay to settle the claim.

In letter dated February 6, HHC offered $300,000 to settle Ferrer's claim, according to court documents.

HHC, DOC and Corizon, the private company that administers health care in city jails, did not respond to a request for comment. The Department of Health referred DNAinfo New York to the law department for comment.   But Shapiro said both Rikers medical care, overseen by the city's health department, and Bellevue were to blame. 

"The fact that Rikers didn't pay doesn't mean they didn't screw up," Shapiro said, adding that they did not name Corizon, Rikers' troubled medical provider, in the lawsuit.

As DNAinfo reported, the city has indemnified Corizon and pays out for medical failings at Rikers for which they are found culpable.