$1.3M settlement reached in county jail death

EVERETT — A $1.3 million settlement has been reached in a damage claim filed on behalf of a woman who slowly died of a lung infection inside the Snohomish County Jail.

Lyndsey Lason was 27 when her stiffened body was found in her cell in 2011. Her chest was filled with fluid that eventually collapsed her lungs.

Much of the settlement money will go to meeting the needs of Lason’s son, now 11. The payouts to the boy will be made incrementally through the age of 40.

The boy, whose father is in prison, lives with his grandparents in Idaho.

Lason had plans to visit her son before she was arrested Oct. 29, 2011. The misdemeanor warrants alleged theft in Everett and prostitution in Des Moines.

Thirteen days later, she was dead.

A couple of days after being booked into jail, Lason said she fell out of her bunk. She began complaining to fellow inmates and jail staff about breathing problems.

During a medical assessment five days before Lason died, a nurse noted she had a high temperature, rapid breathing, an elevated heart rate and “abnormally low oxygen saturation.” Lason was hyperventilating during the interview, notes say.

Instead of getting a diagnostic exam, she was given stool softeners and muscle relaxants, according to jail records. The medication would have done nothing to fight her infection.

The Snohomish County Medical Examiner told detectives that an X-ray would have found the lung abscesses. Lason likely would have been admitted immediately to an emergency room.

Another medical professional concluded that her death could have been prevented.

“The complacency of the medical staff and the corrections officers resulted in Lason’s death,” wrote forensic pathologist Carl Wigren.

Wigren found that jail staff “purposely frustrated Lason’s repeated attempts to gain access to medical care that would have saved her life.”

Royce Ferguson, the Everett attorney who handled Lason’s estate, said the woman’s family pressed for improvements inside the jail as well as for compensation for the child.

The written agreement, signed Monday, outlines many changes at the jail that have been made already, including hiring a doctor, reducing the daily population and increasing nurses’ salaries to make them competitive with the marketplace and improve care.

Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary also plans to ask Jennifer Taylor, Lason’s cousin, to serve on a new jail advisory committee, which reviews policies and procedures, the settlement papers said. Trenary was sworn in as sheriff in July of 2013.

The family also had asked that the county name the jail’s medical unit after Lason. That request was not met.

“Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office has made significant changes at the Snohomish County Jail since Lyndsey Lason’s death,” court papers said. “It is understood by all parties to this agreement that but for those changes, Ms. Lason’s family would not have settled the claim in pre-suit mediation.”

The financial agreement includes $1,000 a month to meet the boy’s needs through the age of 18. There also is money set aside for him to attend college and for later in life through the year 2042.

The case was resolved in mediation and before a lawsuit was filed. The damage claim listed Snohomish County as well as the cities of Everett and Des Moines. The settlement covered all parties.

The jail, where nine people have died of various causes since 2010, has come under scrutiny in recent years. In February, the mother of Michael Saffioti, who died in the jail in July 2012, filed a lawsuit alleging that her son’s death was the result of ingrained problems at the county-run lockup, including deliberate indifference among some of its staff.

The Saffioti lawsuit alleges several employees, including a corrections officer and four jail nurses, ignored the Mukilteo man’s medical needs when he began to suffer an apparent allergic reaction after eating breakfast.

In the Lason death, Ferguson said the county’s willingness to negotiate in mediation before a lawsuit was filed showed it was acting in good faith.

The settlement — instead of a protracted wait to go to trial — also helps the boy at an important time in his life, Ferguson said.

“That was a big factor: How can we help him now?” Ferguson said. “Five years from now it may be too late to make a difference in his life. You have to remember who is the client and that little guy needs help now.”

The sheriff’s office referred questions to Snohomish County prosecutors.

Jason Cummings, the county’s chief civil prosecutor, said the agreement was reviewed by a guardian ad litem representing the boy and approved by a Snohomish County Superior Court judge.

“When parties reach an agreement, there is always a give and a take,” he said. “Clearly, the court found it to be appropriate and authorized the settlement.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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