Inmate suffering heroin withdrawal dies in county jail. $1.6M. Monterey County.


Family says he told jail staff he was in withdrawal and they failed to provide medical care.

The Case

  • Case Name: Mark Vasquez Pajas, et al. v. County of Monterey, et al.
  • Court and Case Number: Northern District of California, San Jose Division, Case No. 16--cv-00945-BLF
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Thursday, February 07, 2019
  • Date Action was Filed: Thursday, February 25, 2016
  • Type of Case: Civil Rights, Wrongful Death
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Beth Labson Freeman
  • Plaintiffs:
    Estate of Mark Vasquez Pajas, Sr.
    Rosemary Lopez, wife of decedent.
    Yvette Pajas, Janel Pajas, Mark Pajas, Jr., Xavier Pajas (adult children of decedent).
  • Defendants:
    County of Monterey
    California Forensic Medical Group (private medical provider to the jail)
    Christina Kaupp (CFMG nurse)
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $1,600,000
  • Contributory/Comparative Negligence: 100% to county.
  • Non-Economic Damages:

    Estate of Mark Pajas, Sr.: $1

    Rosemary Lopez:  $100,000

    Yvette Pajas:  $375,000

    Janel Pajas:  $375,000

    Mark Pajas, Jr.:  $375,000

    Xavier Pajas: $375,000

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 6 days.
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 2 1/2 days.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Hadsell Stormer & Renick LLP by Lori Rifkin, Emeryville.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Monterey County Counsel Office by Michael Philippi, Salinas.

    Sheuerman Martini & Tabari by Alan L. Martini, San Jose. (For defendants California Forensic Medical Group and Kaupp.)

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Marc Stern, M.D., correctional health care, Olympia, WA.

    Larissa Mooney, M.D., addiction psychiatry, Los Angeles.

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    Neal Benowitz, M.D., clinical pharmacology, San Francisco.

    Kimberly Pearson, RN, correctional nursing, Laguna Niguel.

    Harlan Watkins, M.D., internal medicine, San Francisco.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Lenard Vare, criminal justice procedures.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    Mark Pajas, Sr., age 56, died in the custody of Monterey County at the Monterey County Jail on January 20, 2015, approximately 20 hours after he was admitted to the jail. Mr. Pajas informed jail custody and medical staff that he was withdrawing from heroin and would need medical care. On the afternoon of January 20, 2015, Mr. Pajas was found unconscious in his own vomit and declared dead a short time later after resuscitation attempts were unsuccessful.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    That the death of Mr. Pajas was foreseeable and preventable. Custody and medical staff failed to provide Mr. Pajas adequate treatment for heroin withdrawal, failed to adequately assess his medical needs, and failed to follow the jail's own protocols for safety checks and medical checks of a detainee in a sobering/detoxification cell. This violated Mr. Pajas's rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. As a result of defendants' actions and omissions, Mr. Pajas suffered pre-death harm and then death. As a result of defendants' actions and omissions, the wife and adult children of Mr. Pajas lost their familial relationship in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    That staff did not fail to provide medical treatment to Mr. Pajas or fail to protect him from harm and did not cause him harm or death.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Pre-death harm and suffering

  • Loss of familial relationship.