On July 23, 2009, the estate of a deceased Essex County Correctional Facility inmate received $76,000 to settle a lawsuit charging that County officials and Correctional Health Services, Inc., a private contractor providing prison health services, failed to properly monitor and remedy the inmate’s medical condition.

According to the lawsuit, filed in federal court in 2008, the deceased, Santos Javier Cajigas, was lodged in the Essex Facility on April 3, 2006 and died on April 16, 2006. The lawsuit alleges that Cajigas “became increasingly ill during his incarceration” but that the defendants failed to deliver the medical attention he required.

The case is captioned Ines Cajigas v. County of Essex, et al Case No. 08-cv-05834. The plaintiff’s lawyer was Anthony L. Coviello, Esq. of Bloomfield. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a provision requiring the parties to keep the facts, amounts and terms of the settlement confidential. Fortunately, however, such “confidentiality clauses” do not trump the public’s right to know under the Open Public Records Act.

None of Cajigas’ allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $76,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the County Officials or the private contractor. All that is known for sure is that defendants, and perhaps their insurers, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Cajigas and her lawyer $76,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants’ decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial–it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. Please send all comments to [email protected]