Home Medical Malpractice Man files lawsuit claiming Twin Co. hospital, deputies’ actions left him paralyzed

Man files lawsuit claiming Twin Co. hospital, deputies’ actions left him paralyzed

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(WFXR) — According to a lawsuit filed in Galax two months ago, the last time Joshua Lee Smith could move his arms and legs was when he was being thrown headfirst into a van by four Carroll County deputies in 2020.

On May 3, Smith filed a lawsuit against Twin County Regional Healthcare, including four unnamed doctors and nurses; Carroll County Sheriff Kevin Kemp and four of his deputies; the New River Valley Regional Jail Authority and three of its officers; Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia Karl R. Hade; a magistrate judge who presided over Smith’s bond hearing; and three country or state deputies after a visit to the hospital exactly two years earlier left him paralyzed from the chest down.

According to the supervising attorney for the Civic Rights Clinic at Georgetown University, Marissa Hatten, the incident began when Smith arrived at Twin County Regional Healthcare in Galax to seek medical care for “radiating pain” in his body and numbness in his legs on May 3, 2020.

Smith’s lawsuit says he had received a lower back surgery at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital in 2004 to treat symptoms of a degenerative disk disease. However, when his pain did not subside as much as expected, he was reportedly told the surgery had damaged his sciatic nerve, resulting in ongoing leg and back pain and causing him to visit Twin County Regional Healthcare at least five times in the following years to treat issues related to that pain.

“Mr. Smith’s ongoing need for pain medication to treat the complications from his lower back surgery resulted in the development of an addiction to pain medication,” the lawsuit said. “As a result, Mr. Smith has a substance use disorder.”

Therefore, when Smith arrived at the emergency room on May 3, 2020, he was weak, struggling to stand, and losing feeling in his legs, but he was denied care because the medical staff knew about his previous opioid use through the hospital’s pain management program and “they believed Mr. Smith had arrived at the hospital seeking drugs and contrived his symptoms just to seek pain medication, and that there was nothing
wrong with him,” according to the lawsuit.

Even though Smith’s pain worsened, the doctor and three nurses in the emergency room — who reportedly called Smith an addict — refused to do more than provide a shot of Benadryl and catheterize him to perform a urine drug test.

Carroll County deputy was called to remove Smith from the hospital, which led to the discovery of a 2015 charge for failure to appear for a probation violation against Smith, the lawsuit says.

“He is shackled to his hospital bed, and he is being treated like a violent criminal,” said Hatten when retelling the events of May 3, 2020. “The ER doctors and nurses called the cops on him. Not only did they call the cops on him, they helped physically drag him out of his hospital bed, with the cops, into the cop car.”

“They do decide that not only does he need to see a magistrate judge, but they need to do it right there in that moment,” Hatten continued.

The deputy brought Smith to the Carroll County General District Court for a bond hearing around midnight on May 4, 2020, which is when three more Carroll County deputies came out and forcefully pulled him from the car. However, he fell to the ground, so the deputies “violently pulled him up by his neck and under his shoulders,” he fell to the concrete again, and dragged him into the courthouse on a rubber welcome mat, taunting him and refusing to take precautions to protect him from further harm, according to court documents.

The lawsuit says the judge responded to Smith’s condition and deputies’ claims about his substance use disorder, saying, “If you can stand up and talk to me like a man, you can go home.”

However, Smith was reportedly unable to comply with the requirement, so he was denied bond.

Court documents state that the deputies shackled Smith — who was entirely unable to walk and was losing consciousness — and, rather than provide life-saving medical care, proceeded to drag him to the police van; mock him for being a “junkie”; pick him up off the ground; and swing him back and forth to throw him into the van, which required multiple attempts.

“They throw him in head-first, and they throw him in unsecured. And then what happened is essentially a 40-minute-long rough ride,” Hatten said. “Mr. Smith is in the back of this police van, unsecured being tossed around, and at some point completely loses consciousness. He wakes up face down in the jail cell.”

The lawsuit specifies that right before losing consciousness, Smith lost all sensation from his chest down due to a bump in the road. In addition, it says that Smith laid in the jail cell at the New River Valley Regional Jail for several hours.

Even though Smith was immobile, lying face down, and barely breathing, the court documents say the three jail officers ignored his pleas for help.

According to the suit, a nurse was called in for medical attention after other staff members noticed Smith hadn’t moved from the floor in hours. When the nurse recognized he was in critical condition, he was sent to Carilion New River Valley Medical Center to be intubated to help him breathe.

Once he was stable, he was reportedly brought to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital to undergo emergency surgery to salvage the nerves in his spine. After Smith woke up from his surgery, though, he discovered that he was shackled to his bed with two law enforcement officers stationed in his room.

On May, 10, 2020, the law enforcement officers still made Smith attend a bond hearing from his hospital bed using an iPad, despite the fact that he was on a ventilator, unable to speak, and heavily sedated, the lawsuit says.

The magistrate judge told Smith to set a hearing date when he was physically able, but court documents say that has not been possible because he has been incapacitated for the past two years.

The suit reports that Smith remained intubated at Roanoke Memorial for about 50 days and stayed in his hospital bed to recover for a total of three to four months.

“Mr. Smith was told at Roanoke Hospital that if Doctor A and Nurses B, C, and D had conducted simple tests at the Twin Valley Hospital Emergency Room, such as an MRI or a CT scan, they could have identified the life-threatening abscess on his upper spine,” the lawsuit stated. “Mr. Smith’s neck and shoulder pain and the numbness in his hands and legs were symptoms of such an abscess, and had it been identified, he could have been treated.”

Hatten tells WFXR News that Smith now resides in a North Carolina hospice treatment center as a quadriplegic, meaning all four of his limbs are paralyzed.

The court documents spell out the specific legal violations for which Smith wants the various individuals involved in the incident to be held accountable:

  • First claim for relief against the four Carroll County deputies and the sheriff: Excessive use of force against Smith, thus violating the Fourth Amendment
  • Second claim for relief against the sheriff of Carroll County, the four deputies, the New River Valley Regional Jail Authority, and the three jail officers: Violation of substantive due process, thus violating the 14th Amendment
  • Third claim for relief against the sheriff of Carroll County, the four deputies, the New River Valley Regional Jail Authority, the three jail officers, and the two unidentified law enforcement officers: Violation of procedural due process, thus violating the 14th Amendment
  • Fourth claim for relief against the four Carroll County deputies, the sheriff, Twin County Regional Healthcare, and its doctor and three nurses: Violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Fifth claim for relief against the first magistrate judge and the executive secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia: Violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Sixth claim for relief against Twin County Regional Healthcare: Violation of the Patient Protection and the Affordable Care Act
  • Seventh claim for relief against Twin County Regional Healthcare and its doctor and three nurses: Medical malpractice
  • Eighth claim for relief against the four Carroll County deputies and the sheriff: Battery
  • Ninth claim for relief against the four Carroll County deputies and the sheriff: Assault
  • Tenth claim for relief against the New River Valley Regional Jail Authority and the three jail officers: Negligence
  • Eleventh claim for relief against the four Carroll County deputies and the sheriff: Intentional infliction of emotional distress
  • Twelfth claim for relief against the four Carroll County deputies and the sheriff: Negligent infliction of emotional distress

Through the Smith v. Twin County lawsuit, Smith is reportedly seeking full compensation for widespread physical injuries that resulted from untreated medical conditions and physical force in the defendants’ custody, including the permanent spinal damage and paralysis; recurring pain and suffering; and mental and emotional distress.

At the end of the suit, Smith urged the court to do the following:

(a) DECLARE that Defendants’ conduct violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act;

(b) ENTER JUDGMENT holding the appropriate Defendants jointly and severally liable to plaintiff for compensatory damages, punitive damages, and other damages recoverable under the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia;

(c) AWARD compensatory and punitive damages in an amount to be determined by a jury;

(d) AWARD Plaintiff his costs and reasonable attorney’s fees; and

(e) GRANT such other and further relief as the Court deems just and proper.

You can read a more detailed description of the incident and the impact on Smith’s physical condition in the lawsuit, which is included below:

It has been confirmed that the allegations in the lawsuit that occurred at Twin County Regional Healthcare — who sent the following statement to WFXR News — are still under investigation.

“Twin County Regional Healthcare is aware of this lawsuit and while we are still in the process of investigating its claims related to the circumstances surrounding Mr. Smith’s treatment in our Emergency Department, we do not believe the lawsuit accurately portrays that treatment.  

In compliance with the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA), we provide a medical screening exam to every individual who presents to our emergency department for examination or treatment for an emergency medical condition. Patients are then triaged, and decisions regarding appropriate care are made based on the information our healthcare professionals have available to them at that time. We have no reason to believe that process was not followed in this situation.  

Our hospital complies with all applicable HIPAA regulations, which prohibits us from discussing any specific patient case.

Twin County is a trusted, dependable provider of quality care to Galax and the Twin Counties in Virginia, and we are committed to upholding our high standards of care and service for everyone we serve.”

WFXR News team reached out to the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office and the New River Valley Regional Jail for a statement on the lawsuit, but there has been no response as of this writing.

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