Prison Allergy Death Sparks $10 Million Lawsuit

in Food Allergy, Milk & Egg
Published: October 10, 2013

(October 10, 2013) The mother of a young man who died of a suspected allergic reaction in a Washington State jail is launching a lawsuit against the county for $10 million.

Michael Saffioti, 22, landed in the Snohomish County Jail on a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge in July of 2012. He was expected to appear before a judge then be released, but he never made it that far: after a single night in the jail, the young man – who had asthma and severe food allergies – died of what appeared to be an allergic reaction to dairy.

According to the notice of claim, which was filed last week in Snohomish County Court, Saffioti was transferred to the county jail after an officer at the city jail “determined that Michael could not be properly supervised at the city jail due to his medical issues.”

His mother Rose Saffioti, who is trained as a nurse, says she was assured that his medical needs would be met; but according to her claim, her son was assigned to the jail’s mental health unit – not the medical unit – and was not put on a list for a special diet.

After eating oatmeal at breakfast, Saffioti began having difficulty breathing, and repeatedly pressed the emergency button, asked for his asthma medication, and pleaded for someone to call 911. As his breathing grew more labored, other inmates report that they yelled for help, but none arrived until it was too late. Within 30 minutes of eating the oatmeal, he was unconscious; within two hours, he was declared dead in hospital.

The mother’s legal team is arguing that the county jail failed to properly document her son’s allergy to milk products, that officials failed to provide him with a medically approved diet, and that, when he was experiencing the allergic reaction, there was “an absolute and utter failure” to provide medical care.

Rose Saffioti has been advised not to speak about the case, but her lawyer says that she is hoping the lawsuit will lead to answers – and change.

“She knows that something went incredibly wrong and that it needs to be fixed,” says attorney Cheryl Snow, who contends that officials at the county jail have not been forthcoming with information about what occurred that morning. “My client wants them to be penalized to the extent that they get that, because so far she is pretty justified in the impression that they haven’t got it. They have kind of blown her off – and she lost a beautiful 22-year-old boy.”

Shari Ireton, the director of communications for the Snohomish County sheriff’s office, did not return requests for an interview about the lawsuit.

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