The father of a man who died at the Maine State Prison in Warren in 2018 has filed a wrongful death lawsuit alleging that Wellpath LLC, the Nashville-based company that provides medical care for inmates, failed to properly treat Andrew Leighton in the final days of his life.
Leighton, 51, of Falmouth was found unresponsive in his cell the morning of Oct. 1. He had sought medical treatment five times between July 31, 2018, and his death but his condition continued to worsen, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit was filed last month in Cumberland County Superior Court by Thomas Leighton, 79, of Cumberland. He sued Wellpath, formerly known as Correct Care Solutions, the for-profit company that has provided medical and dental care in the state’s prisons since 2012 under a contract with the Maine Department of Corrections.
The father is seeking unspecified damages for medical expenses, funeral expenses, conscious pain and suffering and the loss of enjoyment of life.
The lawsuit alleges that Wellpath was negligent in treating Andrew Leighton’s infection and failed to meet the standard care of reasonably competent medical providers.
Thomas Leighton’s attorney, Susan Faunce of Lewiston, called his son’s death a tragedy that never should have happened.
“Andrew Leighton received a death sentence,” the lawyer said. “Through this lawsuit Andrew’s family hopes to highlight the dangers of the prison health care system and as such, keep other inmates safe from harm.”
A spokesperson for Wellpath did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Most companies refuse to comment on pending litigation.
At the time of his death, Andrew Leighton was serving a 27-year sentence for murdering his mother, Shirley Leighton, 68, on May 3, 2013, at the home he shared with his parents in Falmouth.
Thomas Leighton was walking the family dog at the time of the shooting. The Leightons were trying to get their son to accept mental health treatment when Shirley Leighton was slain, according to reports on his sentencing in January 2015.
The events that allegedly led to Andrew Leighton’s death began July 28, 2018, when he saw a dentist at the prison for pain in his lower left molars. He saw the dentist again on Aug. 22 for “excruciating pain in his teeth, nose and neck” and was prescribed penicillin, the complaint said.
Five days later, Andrew Leighton allegedly told the dentist that his pain had not abated and he now had sinus congestion and an earache. The dentist referred the inmate to the prison’s medical team.
On Sept. 4, 2018, a nurse practitioner prescribed a different antibiotic and ibuprofen without examining Andrew Leighton, the complaint said.
Two weeks later, a nurse allegedly found a mass the size of a golf ball in his throat when he said that he was having difficulty swallowing. She scheduled a follow-up appointment for him on Oct. 2, 2018, the day after he died.
On Sept. 30, Andrew Leighton saw a nurse, according to the complaint. He told her that he had difficulty breathing and made an audible snoring sound when he tried to breathe with his mouth closed. He also said that he was unable to lie flat and had not slept in days because the lump in his throat blocked his airway. He asked to be admitted to the infirmary for monitoring, but the nurse refused his request.
The nurse allegedly did not relay Andrew Leighton’s complaints to a doctor. Instead, she told him to apply ice to his neck and to sleep with his head and chest slightly elevated. At about 6 a.m. the next day, a medical assistant noticed that the prisoner was struggling to breathe and sounded “like a pig.” She requested he be seen in the clinic.
An hour or so later, Andrew Leighton was found unresponsive in his cell, the complaint alleged. CPR was unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead at 8:37 a.m.
An autopsy determined the cause of death to be acute inflammation at the base of the tongue and in the neck with an infection in the salivary glands. The conditions were complications from asthma and sepsis.
Wellpath is the nation’s largest for-profit provider of health care to correctional facilities, providing the service at more than 500 facilities in 34 states. A 2019 CNN investigation that looked at complaints at 172 locations in 32 states found the company provided poor-quality care that led to preventable deaths and other serious outcomes.
There are half a dozen lawsuits against Wellpath pending in federal court in Maine. In one of them, Christine Avery of Portland, Connecticut, claims that her father, Christopher Nault, died on Nov. 15, 2018, after Wellpath employees refused to treat him for chronic Hepatitis C.
A class-action lawsuit over Hepatitis C treatment in Maine’s prisons is pending a resolution in court. The Department of Corrections in October agreed to provide treatment to inmates with the condition.
Because state court system records are not expected to be online until next year, it is not possible to determine exactly how many lawsuits Wellpath is facing in Maine state courts.