In The News

$8,000,000 Settlement on behalf of Christopher Tanner with the Colorado Department of Corrections

The settlement was reached after an extensive litigation, factual discovery and Court rulings in favor of Mr. Tanner’s deliberate indifference claims.

Chris Tanner was suffering from a treatable pneumonia infection while incarcerated at the Denver Reception and Diagnostic Center (DRDC) on Smith Road.

On the morning of March 15th, 2020 Mr. Tanner woke up with a very high temperature of over 105° fever, vomiting, laying on the floor and begging to go to the hospital. For the next two days, Mr. Tanner’s condition was allowed to greatly deteriorate in front of prison workers. His oxygen levels were critically low, he was actually passing out and becoming largely non-verbal.

Both Mr. Tanner and his cellmate continued repeatedly to beg for medical help and for Chris to be sent to the hospital.

Despite his obvious very serious illness, Mr. Tanner was never seen by a doctor, did not receive antibiotics or a diagnosis. He was instead kept locked in his cell instead of being discharged to a hospital. For his pneumonia he was given only Tylenol. Several of his caregivers advocated for him to go to the hospital and were so concerned they were texting to each other. In those texts, they shared their anguish about their repeated requests for Chris to be sent to the hospital being completely ignored by jail providers.

When Mr. Tanner was finally taken to the hospital, he was very close to death and barely able to breathe on his own.

At the hospital he was severely septic, intubated, and barely survived. The medical team there was able to save his life, but the medications he required caused most of his hands and toes to die and require amputation. He now is missing his entire right hand, most of his left hand and the front half of both feet.

A jury trial was set for March of 2024, four years since he was abandoned in this obvious medical crisis.

After two years of extensive litigation, the Department of Corrections has agreed to pay $8,000,000 to settle the deliberate Constitutional Civil Rights claims brought by Mr. Tanner.

Mr. Tanner was represented by Anna, Erica and Dan from our firm and also by Matt Laird from Thomas, Keel & Laird.

This case and our work in this area continues to overwhelmingly demonstrate that people incarcerated all over this country far too often are ignored and abandoned, suffering needlessly from untreated treatable conditions in the nation’s jails. Much too commonly, they are also outrageously and very unfairly accused of exaggerating or faking their medical conditions while languishing from them.

Far too many people have laid down on the floors of jail cells knowing they urgently need to go to the hospital to survive, trapped because no one will help them or open the jail bars to let them get to emergently needed hospital medical care. Many of them die there, like Chris Tanner almost did.

The denial of medical care should never be part of punishment in a civilized society. Deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners impales itself on the Constitution’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

The State of Colorado has graciously now accepted responsibility for this care debacle, ended the lawsuit and determined to ensure some justice for Chris Tanner in a way that allows him the resources and the means to begin putting his life back together. Of course, he must continue to live with his devastating permanent limitations and impairments knowing they were entirely preventable.

The firm is hopeful that public settlements and verdicts in cases like this one will play a role in causing necessary and lifesaving critical changes in the way we treat those we incarcerate.

Chris and Debby Tanner have written this about what happened to Chris:

DOC has the lives and well-being of so many people in its care. So many sons, daughters, mothers & fathers. Sadly, many see those individuals only as “offenders”. Because of that, the kind of medical care and attention a person can reasonably expect from those caring for him is often not provided in the prison/jail setting in many places around the country.

I alone am responsible for the choices that I made that led to my incarceration, but I didn’t hurt anyone. I never expected something like this could happen.

I am happy that the State, through this settlement, has tried to set right how I was treated. I think that the majority of the public, that have no experience with the criminal justice system, would be shocked to learn how incarcerated people are often treated. I hope that by shining some light on my case, others will not have to go through what I went through.

No amount of money can give me back what I have lost, but this settlement will afford me a real opportunity to begin finally putting this behind me.

For additional discussion of this case see the articles about what happened here published in Westword. Follow this link for Westword’s most recent report about this settlement. Also see the Denver Post coverage of the case here.