County agrees to $12.2M settlement with man who was jailed for drunken driving, then lost his hands

MINNEAPOLIS – A Minnesota county agreed to pay a $12.2 million settlement to a man who was jailed on suspicion of drunken driving but ended up losing both his hands and suffering a heart attack, a stroke and skin lesions all over his body, allegedly due to the inaction of officials in the county jail, attorneys said Wednesday.

Terrance Dwayne Winborn spent about four months in hospitals, including two months on a ventilator, because Scott County jail officials failed during the 39 hours he was incarcerated to ensure he got the prompt treatment he needed, his lawyers said at a news conference.

It’s a case that highlights the vulnerability of prisoners who are dependent on authorities for medical care.

The attorneys said the settlement will cover the more than $2 million in medical bills Winborn has already incurred — a sum which they said the county didn’t cover — as well as the millions he’ll need for ongoing care. The county’s insurance plan will cover the settlement.

“That deliberate indifference allowed a bacterial infection to run rampant within his body, leading to a heart attack … and a host of other devastating and permanent injuries,” attorney Katie Bennett told reporters.

Jason Hiveley, an outside lawyer who handled the case for Scott County, said in a brief statement that the county and its insurer, the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust, agreed to the settlement in exchange for dismissal of Winborn’s lawsuit and a release from his claims. The statement did not say whether the county still denies any wrongdoing.

Winborn’s attorneys played a video showing his difficulties in adapting to life without hands, including feeding himself. He said he eats two meals a day because three takes too much work.

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“I don’t sleep because every time I dream, I dream I have my hands, you know. And I wake up, they’re gone again,” Winborn said in the video. “I’d rather have my hands than anything.”

Winborn, from the southwestern Minnesota city of Marshall, was arrested in the Minneapolis suburb of Shakopee in the early hours of Aug. 27, 2020. His blood alcohol content measured 0.13% at the jail, according to the lawsuit he filed last year. The legal limit for driving is 0.08%. Late that morning, after his blood alcohol content returned to zero, he began vomiting.

He was unable to stand up that morning when a jail nurse came by for a COVID-19 check, the complaint said. She noted that his right hand was “extremely swollen,” and that he had trouble answering questions. On a second visit, around midday, the nurse was unable to measure his blood oxygen level but still did not attempt to get him emergency care. By the time a corrections officer drove Winborn to a Shakopee hospital the evening of Aug. 28, his condition was even worse.

Personnel at the suburban hospital were so concerned that they sent him by ambulance that night to a bigger hospital in Minneapolis, where he was put in intensive care, the complaint said. Doctors amputated his hand and part of his forearm two days later after necrotizing fasciitis set in, a condition popularly known as flesh-eating bacteria. It’s a rare condition in which marauding bacteria run rampant through tissue. Affected areas sometimes have to be surgically removed to save the patient’s life.

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By the time Winborn was transferred to a nursing home that November, his weight had dropped from his normal 180 pounds to 126 pounds (82 kilograms to 57 kilograms). Another infection led doctors to amputate his left arm below the elbow that December.

The complaint also said jail videos that could have provided important evidence were destroyed after 90 days because officials took no action to preserve them — despite knowing about the severity of Winborn’s injuries and the potential for litigation. Jail officials stated in their depositions that they couldn’t remember what happened.

“The County and MCIT are hopeful the resolution of this matter will help provide Mr. Winborn with the medical care and quality of life assistance he needs,” Hiveley said.