LOS ANGELES (AP) — A federal judge has refused to dismiss most of a former prison inmate’s allegations that the government was negligent in exposing him to a potentially deadly disease while he was incarcerated in California.
U.S. District Judge Gary Feess’ written ruling, issued Thursday, could clear the way for a trial for Arjang Panah as early as next year, said his attorney, Ian Wallach. Officials with the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles did not immediately respond to email and phone messages left Saturday.
Panah was sentenced to prison in 2004 for dealing methamphetamine. He was originally incarcerated in New York but was transferred to the Taft Correctional Institution in California’s Central Valley in 2005. It was there that he contracted Coccidioidomycosis, or cocci, more commonly known as Valley Fever. The disease is caused by a fungus found in soil, particularly in the southwestern United States.
Wallach says the U.S. government was negligent in putting Panah in a prison where it knew the disease was rampant and not warning him.
“The government had an obligation to provide a safe place for him,” Wallach said in a phone interview. “What they did instead was they released him into a place where there was an outbreak of illness.”
Panah has since been released from prison and has a job but continues to suffer from the illness, Wallach said.
“He’s going to require lifelong treatment, and it’s a potentially fatal illness,” the attorney said, adding he didn’t want to release too much more information about Panah out of concern for his privacy.
Wallach said Panah will seek unspecified damages for pain and suffering, as well as for his medical treatment and for missed work time.
No trial date has been set.
In his ruling, Feess said the government’s immunity from prosecution in such cases does not extend to matters where it knows someone is in danger and does nothing about it.
“In short, the discretionary function exception test does not apply to plaintiff’s negligence claims to the extent they are based on defendants’ failure to warn of the cocci outbreak,” the judge said.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)