LOS ANGELES – A jury found Wednesday that Los Angeles County was not liable to a man who suffered a psychotic breakdown and self-mutilated himself in the Men’s Central Jail in 2014.
The Los Angeles Superior Court panel deliberated for less than a day before rejecting 33-year-old Michael Shabsis’ case.
His lawyer, Michael Libman, maintained his client was allowed to deliberately injure himself because jail because deputies were not properly trained to respond to Shabsis’ calls for help.
But lawyers for Los Angeles County maintained deputies had no duty to go to the aid of Shabsis absent any information they had that he was in need of immediate medical care.
“This is not Cedars-Sinai hospital, this is a county jail,” defense attorney Rickey Ivey told jurors during his final argument.
Libman disagreed and said one of the deputies on watch when Shabsis used his fingers to gouge out his eyes — leaving him permanently blinded — admitted he was trained only to look for visible signs of distress. As a result, when Shabsis screamed for help when he suffered a broken hip in jail prior to the Jan. 1, 2014, mid-afternoon self-mutilation, he was left lying nude on his cell floor without the immediate aid he needed, Libman said.
According to Libman, deputies knew Shabsis was mentally ill and delusional when he was jailed on elder abuse allegations involving his grandfather in December 2013. When he broke his hip, Shabsis reached his breaking point, Libman told jurors.
But Ivey said Shabsis had a history of psychological problems that intensified when he stopped using his medications. He said the plaintiff told deputies various reasons other than hip pain for gouging out his eyes, including his inability to deal with bright lights in jail and his fear of going to hell.
Ivey said Shabsis’ claims about his hip pain causing his violent behavior may have something to do with his case now being before a jury, saying “$35 million will make you think of a lot of things.”
Prior to trial, Shabsis settled his claims against Pfizer Inc. and Dr. Philip Cogen, who worked at Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA. Pfizer makes Chantix, which was prescribed to Shabsis by Cogen.
The settlement terms with Pfizer and Cogen were not divulged.
Judge Daniel Murphy previously dismissed former Sheriff Lee Baca as a defendant, saying his presence in the case was “redundant” because Shabsis also sued Los Angeles County. The judge also dismissed Shabsis’ claims against the University of California Board of Regents.
Previous related story: Lawyer says LA County should pay $35 million to former inmate