Edith Rodriguez was captured on security videotape as a janitor mopped around her and a triage nurse dismissed her complaints in the early morning of May 9, 2007. Her death helped to precipitate the closure of the hospital's emergency room and inpatient care after federal regulators determined that staffers had failed to deliver a minimum standard of care.
The 43-year-old woman's boyfriend, who had accompanied her to the emergency room and called 911 from a nearby pay phone after no one would help, recently was offered a $250,000 settlement by county supervisors. A separate lawsuit against the county filed by her adult children could potentially prove far more costly and is considered more likely to go to trial.
The indifference shown to Rodriguez's suffering made national news and outraged county supervisors and national health authorities as well as area residents. A federal report issued last year concluded that six staff members, including a nurse and two nursing assistants, saw or walked past Rodriguez but did nothing.
She died from a perforated bowel shortly after she was arrested on an outstanding warrant instead of being treated.
The potential county payouts in the Rodriguez case would mark the latest in a long history of settlements and judgments against the now-shuttered hospital for poor patient care.
A 2004 Times series on failures at the facility found the county had paid $20.1 million in malpractice cases during fiscal years 1999 to 2003, more than at any of the state's other public hospitals or the University of California medical centers, once adjusted for the number of patients.
The internal county assessment that Rodriguez could have been successfully treated was inadvertently made public, at least briefly, when lawyers working for the county mistakenly included it in a recent court filing. The attorneys quickly moved to seal the filing when they realized the error.
"Our in-house reviewed [sic] felt she could have been saved, at least in the early part of her detention," according to the report prepared by Sedgwick Caronia, an outside firm hired to evaluate the county risk.
Under "liability conclusions," the report said: "This is a case of medical negligence as to the medical treatment provided by medical staff at the facility. There may be other liability exposures to the county police and the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department for failure to obtain 'medical clearance' to remove the patient" from the hospital to the jail.
The report, which was reviewed by The Times, also recommended that the county attempt to settle the children's case alleging civil rights violations and medical malpractice for $250,000 because of a likely "adverse" court judgment. The children have asked for $1 million for each minute she was denied treatment -- $45 million in all.
Rodriguez's boyfriend, Jose Prado, sued for emotional distress. His attorney, Franklin Casco Jr., who also represents Rodriguez's children, said Prado has been reluctant to agree to the county's settlement offer because county representatives attempted to place an oral condition that he not be able to testify in the children's case. Casco said he had no comment on the internal report, saying he had not seen it.
Roger Granbo, deputy county counsel, confirmed that $250,000 is on the table for Prado but otherwise declined to comment on the case.
Diane Karpman, a legal ethics expert based in Beverly Hills, said the inadvertent release of damaging internal documents is not an uncommon occurrence, but it "changes everything. Even though it might be sealed, you can't un-ring the bell," she said.
The firm that made the mistake, she said, might be liable for a legal malpractice suit if the county can prove that the mistake resulted in damages.
"It might be difficult for the county to show that the mistake resulted in damages, however. If it's such a bad case, they might have lost anyway," she said.
David J. Weiss, who represents the county in the case and whose firm mistakenly filed the report in court papers, declined to comment.
The events of the early morning when Rodriguez died were documented on videotape and in two 911 calls for help.
In addition to the call placed by Prado, a female bystander also called for an ambulance to take Rodriguez to another hospital. The operator chastised the caller, telling her the line was only to be used for emergencies and advising her that if there was an issue with the quality of care, she needed to contact a hospital supervisor.