RICHMOND, SEPT. 10 -- The family of a prison inmate who died allegedly because doctors and nurses for the state Corrections Department ignored her heart condition has received a $675,000 settlement.
Gwendolyn Miltier of Portsmouth, Va., an inmate in the Virginia Correctional Center for Women in Goochland County, died of an "acute heart attack" on June 16, 1986, months after state officials had been warned of her poor heart but failed to provide adequate treatment, according to a lawsuit filed in federal district court here.
The settlement, described by lawyers as one of the largest involving improper care of a Virginia inmate, was entered in court here last week just as the case was to go to trial.
Miltier, 46, was serving a five-year sentence after pleading guilty to operating a motor vehicle after her license was revoked because of a drunken-driving conviction.
Kelly Miltier, the inmate's brother, said family members had written letters to corrections officials and Govs. Charles S. Robb and Gerald L. Baliles warning that Gwendolyn Miltier needed special medical attention for her heart.
According to a federal appeals court review of the case, a doctor at the Goochland facility recommended that Miltier, who had complained of chest pains, blackouts and shortness of breath, be transferred to a special cardiac unit at the Medical College of Virginia, but corrections officials never followed through.
"They just neglected and neglected and neglected," Kelly Miltier said. "We feel if my sister had proper treatment, she would be alive today."
The defendants in the case were two Corrections Department nurses and three doctors who worked on contract for the prison system. The settlement will be paid by the state's insurance company.
Department of Corrections spokesman Wayne Farrar declined to comment. Gov. L. Douglas Wilder approved the settlement, which he must do with all large settlements against state agencies and employees.
Charles F. Beorn, an internist on contract for the Corrections Department, examined Miltier twice in 1985 and concluded that she probably did not have arteriosclerosis, a form of heart disease, according to court documents. But Beorn testified in court that he never administered the necessary tests to confirm his diagnosis, the papers said.
Beorn's lawyer, Mary M.H. Priddy of Richmond, said if the case had gone to trial, she and lawyers for other defendants could have shown there was no negligence in the case. But she said Beorn's company urged a settlement.
"Mrs. Miltier presented a very complicated medical picture," Beorn said. "It wasn't a clear-cut case of a patient with a heart condition."
The two other doctors were Robert W. Fry and Leon Dixon. The nurses were Rena H. Barker and Mary C. Spencer.
Susan C. Minkin, a Washington lawyer for the Miltier family, said the size of the settlement "indicates that we had a very legitimate claim and there was a good chance of getting a high jury award if we went to trial."
A federal judge originally dismissed the case on grounds there was not enough evidence to suggest negligence. But that decision was reversed by a unanimous ruling of a three-judge appeals court panel.
If the case had gone to trial, Minkin said, she would have argued that Miltier's medical treatment was a violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.