Man will get no money after suing the county, jail for leaving his cancer undiagnosed

Yellowstone County does not need to pay any money to the man who accused the Yellowstone County Detention Facility of not diagnosing his cancer while in custody.

In a unanimous verdict, the jury found that Yellowstone County was negligent in not diagnosing Fred Miller, 50, with cancer while he was incarcerated in the county detention facility. However, the jury did not find the county’s negligence was a “substantial” factor in causing injury to Miller.

While the jury did award Miller $250,000 in damages for “loss of established course of life,” the county will not be required to pay those damages, as the jury did not find that county caused Miller’s loss. The dollar amount is essentially meaningless without establishing that causation. The reason behind the jury’s decision to award money was not clear.

Miller was incarcerated in the Yellowstone County Detention Facility in September 2009, complaining about a lump in his throat. He continued to file medical treatment requests until his transfer to Missoula County Detention Facility in August 2010, where a biopsy revealed he had throat cancer.

The jury deliberated on their verdict for more than six hours, and their verdict was a hard blow for Miller, whose attorneys, Alex Rate and Justin Staples, both could be heard apologizing to their client. Both attorneys declined to comment after leaving the courtroom.

Yellowstone County Chief Civil Litigator Kevin Gillen and Deputy County Attorney Mark English said they respected the jury’s decision.

Judge Michael Moses presided over the weeklong case and thanked the jury for their time after the verdict was read.

Miller’s suit accused the county, as well as the Yellowstone County Detention Facility and Yellowstone County Sheriff Mike Linder, of negligence, cruel and unusual punishment, and denying Miller’s right to dignity. The jury only found the county guilty of the first claim.

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Miller sought $3 million in compensation for future and past medical care, loss of future and past earnings, services required, pain and suffering, mental and emotional suffering, and loss of established course of life.

According to Miller’s suit, he developed stage 4 carcinoma of his left tonsil while in custody on theft charges at the Yellowstone County Detention Facility.

Despite multiple attempts to receive medical care for a lump the “size of a grape” in the back of his throat, the jail did not properly diagnose the problem, Miller claims.

In a statement of facts provided by Rate, the delay in diagnosis threatened Miller’s life.

Miller’s cancer was eventually diagnosed after he was transferred to the Missoula County Detention Facility. A nurse practitioner with the detention center at the time, Judith Ann Munsell, said Tuesday she “wasn’t aware that anyone took care of him until he got to Missoula,” and that if they had, it should have been noted in his medical file.

“Too many doctors, not enough action,” Munsell said.

Gillen echoed his opening statement during closing arguments and said Miller’s cancer symptoms did not manifest until the end of 2010. Medical record requests before that show Miller’s treatment for his dental problems.