Bucks County Jail contractor tried to keep payout in inmate death secret. We unsealed it

The family of a Delaware County woman who died in the Bucks County Jail received $1 million from the county’s private correctional health care provider, newly unsealed court records show.

The payout is the highest paid by PrimeCare Health to settle a wrongful death lawsuit at the Doylestown Township jail since it took over health care services there in 2013.

That's three times higher than what Bucks County, another defendant in the same lawsuit, paid to settle claims against it in the 2018 death of Brittany Ann Harbaugh.

Harbaugh, a 28-year-old mother of three, who lived in Upper Darby, died four days after she was jailed on a parole violation.

The family alleged in its federal lawsuit that Harbaugh complained in a phone call hours before her death that she was experiencing severe opiate withdrawal symptoms and chest pain but did not receive adequate medical care.

Family sues over 2018 jail death Family files wrongful death suit in opiate-detox death at Bucks jail

The $1 million settlement from PrimeCare was approved in November 2022; Bucks County also settled its claims for $250,000.

While the county released its settlement agreement in the case last year in response to a Right to Know request, PrimeCare had the court seal its agreement and as a private company it is not subject to the government transparency law.

The Harbaugh settlement was unsealed last year after the Pennsylvania chapter of Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Cornell Law School First Amendment Clinic provided pro-bono intervention to this news organization.

The case is the second time organizations have successfully unsealed PrimeCare Medical settlements in wrongful death lawsuits in Bucks County. The company did not oppose the unsealing effort in the Harbaugh case.

PrimeCare Medical CEO Thomas Weber did not respond to an email sent Monday seeking comment.

Earlier this year, a PrimeCare Medical settlement reached with the family of Charles Freitag Sr. was unsealed revealing the firm paid the family $337,000 to settle its claims in his 2018 suicide at the jail.

Bucks County, also a defendant in the Freitag lawsuit, also settled with the Freitag family for $337,500.

Bucks County Correctional Center
Bucks County Correctional Center

The Harbaugh settlement shows that the attorneys representing her family — Kline and Specter, of Philadelphia — received $450,774 in legal fees and expenses.

The remaining proceeds were divided between Harbaugh’s minor children, with each receiving $109,845 — which will be placed into a trust — and $219,691 that went to Harbaugh’s mother, administrator of her daughter’s estate.

The combined settlement is the second highest among inmate wrongful death suits in Bucks County. The family of Frederick Adami, who also died of complications related to opiate withdrawal in January 2018, received $1.375 million in 2022, according to the family and Bucks County.

The PrimeCare settlement in the Adami case is one of two wrongful death cases under a court-ordered seal.

Heather Murray, managing attorney, Local Journalism Project at the Cornell First Amendment Clinic, has pledged to seek the unsealing of those settlements on this news organization's behalf.

The Harbaugh case was the third PrimeCare Medical settlement Cornell First Amendment Clinic and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press have successfully unsealed in Pennsylvania.

“While we’re pleased with the outcome here, dozens of similar settlements remain sealed across the Commonwealth and without PrimeCare’s cooperation each sealed settlement must be challenged individually,” Murray said.

Murray added that she hoped that any future settlement agreements are made public to help news outlets “in their important reporting on allegations of inadequate medical care at Pennsylvania prisons.”

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PrimeCare Medical is responsible for assessing and overseeing the health of incarcerated defendants at the Bucks County Corrections Center and the youth detention center. The county paid the company $8.5 million this fiscal year to provide those medical and mental health services.

The Harrisburg-based PrimeCare Medical often seeks to have settlements reached with plaintiffs sealed in the 37 Pennsylvania county jails that contract for its services, according to a review of federal court docket filings.

Since 2019, PrimeCare Medical has been named as a defendant in at least 65 federal lawsuits filed in Pennsylvania alleging injuries or deaths as a result of inadequate medical care, according to the federal docket.

In Bucks County, the company has settled five wrongful death lawsuits involving incarcerated defendants since 2016.

More Bucks County news Family of Bucks man who died in jail to receive $1M in settlement with county, medical provider

This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: PrimeCare settled over Brittany Harbaugh's Bucks County Jail death