The federal Bureau of Prisons has quietly settled more than 90 food poisoning lawsuits brought by inmates at the U.S. Penitentiary-Canaan, a high-security prison near Scranton, Pa., paying an average of about $1,750 per claim.
In a series of pro se suits filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, the inmates alleged they got salmonella in June 2011 from eating chicken that had been kept at room temperature for a week before it was cooked and served in fajitas.
Prison officials in 2011 initially told the local newspaper, the Wayne Independent, there was "no truth in the rumors" of food poisoning, but later medical tests proved the presence of salmonella.
“It is well known there was a food poisoning and the staff here attempted to cover it up as well as cover up the fact that they did not give the proper medical treatment to everyone that became ill,” alleged one inmate, Timothy Daniels, who said that he suffered from vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea and received no treatment, other than instructions to drink fluids.
Daniels alleged that “food service staff left the subject chicken out of refrigeration for over a week and then served it to the inmate population, because said staff and the executive administration of the Canaan facility have mandated that absolutely no food products may go to waste, no matter how old the product may be.”
Daniels asked for $20,000 and received a $2,000 settlement from the federal government earlier this month, according to the Judgment Fund, a database listing the government’s litigation-related payments.
Joseph Barrett, a mediation program staff attorney in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, was appointed by the court to mediate the cases. Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin Blewitt in Harrisburg represented the government.
The biggest single payment of $5,000 went to inmate Richard Ranolph, who was sick enough to require hospitalization for three days.
Many inmates used similar wording in their complaints. In one typical complaint, inmate Calvin Smith said he suffered “excruciating pain” and was sick for more than two weeks. He was given Gatorade and two aspirins.
Smith, who also received a payment of $2,000 this month, reported that 150 inmates who worked in the kitchen were fired after the outbreak. The prison “has a duty to provide healthy and nutritious meals,” he wrote. “The plaintiff’s inmate’s rights were violated.”