Victoria Herr death: Lebanon County insurer will pay $4.75M.
Lebanon County won’t admit wrongdoing in the death of 2015 jail inmate Tori Herr, but the $4.75 million being paid on behalf of the county to Herr’s estate holds the jail accountable, according to the estate’s attorney.
Being called one of the largest civil prison settlements in the last decade, the deal between Lebanon County and the estate of Tori Herr attempts to hold the county accountable after “breakdowns in the way the prison is run” allowed Herr to die after untreated heroin withdrawal, attorneys for the estate say.
Tori Herr was addicted to heroin and had withdrawal symptoms at the time of her death, according to allegations included in the lawsuit. On March 31, 2015, Herr collapsed outside of her cell, lost consciousness and went into cardiac arrest. She died on April 5, 2015, at Lehigh Valley Hospital.
She had not received medical attention for several days previously despite severe withdraw symptoms, according to the lawsuit.
“It’s certainly one of the largest settlements in at least the last ten years involving the death of a prisoner in civil rights litigation,” said Jonathan Feinberg, an attorney representing Tori Herr’s estate and her mother, Stephanie Moyer. “When there are breakdowns in the way a prison is run, and when those breakdowns cause harm like the unimaginable harm that was caused to Tori Herr, this suit shows that prisons and staff will be held accountable.”
“Tori Herr should not have died in the Lebanon County Correctional Facility,” Feinberg said. “She had a serious condition which could have easily been treated.”
Lebanon County Administrator Jamie Wolgemuth offered the following statement on behalf of the county:
“A mutually agreeable settlement has been reached with the Estate of Victoria Herr. This settlement enables all of the parties to end the litigation surrounding the tragic death of Victoria Herr in the days following her incarceration at the Lebanon County Correctional Facility in March 2015. Ms. Herr’s death was investigated by the Pennsylvania State Police and the Lehigh County Coroner. These investigative bodies did not refer any matter for further inquiry by any prosecutorial agencies.”
Emma Freudenberger, an attorney who was also part of the legal team that filed the lawsuit, said prison staff engaged in contradictions and “lies” during deposition following Tori Herr’s death.
For example, a nurse said under oath that she took Tori Herr’s vital signs 10 minutes before she went into cardiac arrest and found them to be normal, Freudenberger said. That testimony was contradicted by a corrections officer who was present.
Prison Warden Robert Karnes also testified during a deposition that he did not read the state police investigative report following Herr’s death, Freudenberger said.
“(Prison officials) went out of their way to avoid investigating Tori Herr’s death,” she said.
Hugh O’Neill, defense council for the county’s liability insurance carrier, stressed that the prison did refer the case to state police and an autopsy was performed in Lehigh County. The settlement carries no admission of liability on the part of the county, O’Neill said.
The funds used to settle the case will come from the county’s liability insurance carrier, which is a risk-retention pool provided by the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, O’Neill said.
The settlement ends the lawsuit against the county and against county officials named in the report, including Karnes, Feinberg said.
Moyer does not wish to comment, preferring to speak through her attorneys, according to Feinberg.