Woodbury County Law Enforcement Center

Woodbury County has reached a $75,000 settlement with a former jail inmate who had sued the county and Mercy Medical Services, which provided nursing services in the jail, claiming he was given inadequate medical care after suffering a stroke while in custody.

Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal file

SIOUX CITY | Woodbury County has agreed to a $75,000 settlement of a federal lawsuit filed by a former jail inmate who had claimed that medical personnel failed to take immediate action after he suffered a stroke while in custody in 2014.

James Merchant had said in the suit, filed in 2016 in U.S. District Court in Sioux City, that after he reported weakness and numbness in his right side to jail staff, he was left in the nurse's bay overnight before he was evaluated the next morning and taken to Mercy Medical Center, where his stroke was diagnosed.

The county's actions had violated Merchant's constitutional rights to due process and to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by subjecting him to pretrial detention without appropriate medical care, according to the lawsuit. Merchant, 49 at the time of the incident was being held on theft and burglary charges.

As part of the settlement agreement, finalized this week, the county admits no liability.

"I feel very strongly that Woodbury County officials, including the correctional staff, acted appropriately at all times relative to Mr. Merchant," said the county's attorney, Kristopher Madsen, of Council Bluffs. The lawsuit had included Woodbury County Sheriff Dave Drew, Lt. Lynette Phillips and jail Sgt. Al Shinkunas.

Madsen said the settlement amount was less than the cost of ongoing legal expenses, an expected three-week trial and potential jury award in Merchant's favor.

"The decision to settle this claim was made purely on an economic basis," Madsen said.

Also named in the suit were Mercy Medical Services, which at the time provided medical care to jail inmates on a contract basis, and two of its nurses. Mercy has also reached a settlement, Madsen said, but terms of its agreement are confidential. The county's portion of the settlement is not confidential because it involves expenditure of public tax dollars.

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