Record settlement after Medford man’s death in prison

SALEM, Ore. – Years, after a Medford man died in state custody, his family is getting a multi-million dollar settlement from the Oregon Department of Corrections.

54-year old Michael Barton died behind bars in 2018 from influenza.

Investigators from Disability Rights Oregon said Michael Barton’s death was preventable with the right treatment.

Now his family is getting $2.75 million in settlement money from the Oregon Department of Corrections. It’s the largest settlement in DOC history for one person.

“It does offer them a measure of justice for what they lost. But I’m hoping more importantly that it’s a wake-up call about the seriousness of the kinds of problems that were raised by Michael Barton’s death,” said Joel Greenberg, attorney for Disability Rights Oregon.

Greenburg says the most shocking aspect of Barton’s case was his severe flu symptoms. Investigators said he couldn’t even open a door or use a water fountain. Investigators said rather than helping Barton, medical professionals dismissed his behavior.

The organization is hoping for better practices in prisons statewide.

The Oregon DOC issued a statement apologizing to Barton’s family saying his death was needless and preventable.

Full statement from Oregon DOC Director Colette S. Peters on the Estate of Michael Barton settlement…

On behalf of myself and the Oregon Department of Corrections, I would like to apologize to the family of Michael Barton.  The death of any adult in DOC custody is tragic.  But the death of Mr. Barton was also needless and preventable.  We accept the conclusion of Disability Rights Oregon (“DRO”) that Mr. Barton’s death was caused by a combination of failures regarding prescription administration, documentation, and triaging increasingly ill patients, failures that were compounded by nursing and medical staff’s misunderstanding of Barton’s behaviors as indicative of malingering.  This should never have happened to any adult in our custody, and for that we sincerely apologize.

The amount of this settlement is unprecedented for our department and reflects how far removed the facts of this case are from our standards and expectations of care.  We are committed to learning from this case.  As documented in DRO’s report, there were multiple reviews of this death and the failures that contributed to his death.  Each of these reviews has identified needed systems changes, many of which were made and some of which are still ongoing.  While it may be of little comfort to the family of Mr. Barton, we are committed to ensuring that nothing like this happens again within our facilities.

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