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Nevada to pay $3.4 million to former prisoner who received insufficient medical care

Lewis Stewart’s reports of painful urinating went largely unaddressed. More than 14 pounds of fluid were eventually drained from his bladder.
Eric Neugeboren
Eric Neugeboren
CourtsCriminal JusticeState Government

Nevada will pay $3.4 million as a legal settlement to a man formerly incarcerated at the Southern Desert Correctional Center who said he received inadequate medical treatment for years that led to long-term health issues.

In 2002, Lewis Stewart, who faced kidnapping and robbery charges, began telling prison staff that he was having difficulty urinating, with pain that was so severe that he had to curl into a fetal position to alleviate it. He received generic medication in response, but his subsequent reports of discomfort in his urethra, testicles and abdominal areas went largely unaddressed.

In 2015, Stewart was transferred to Warm Springs Correctional Center in Carson City — an eight-hour drive from Clark County — where court documents say he received immediate medical care after arriving “pale, flushed, sweating and unbalanced.” There, doctors drained more than 14 pounds of fluid from Stewart’s bladder and urinary system, and doctors at another correctional facility performed surgery to treat an enlarged prostate. As a result of the years of medical distress, Stewart has suffered stage 3 kidney disease, erectile dysfunction, urine build up and pain from the surgery.

On Tuesday, members of the state’s Board of Examiners — a three-member panel composed of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state — approved the $3.4 million settlement to Stewart, who is now in his 80s and is no longer incarcerated.

“No amount of money makes anything better for what he had to go through,” Cristina Phipps, one of Stewart’s attorneys, said in an interview. “I think he especially is happy to have some justice, and we’re happy that he feels a sense of justice and can move on from this and enjoy the rest of his life.”

The Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC) declined to comment.

The sizable settlement represents significantly more money than the state had provided in two other cases involving NDOC last year regarding the use of birdshot rounds in state prisons, but it represents less money than a jury had initially ordered be paid to Stewart.

A six-day jury trial in U.S. District Court last year culminated with Stewart being awarded $4.5 million. NDOC appealed this ruling, but ultimately agreed to the $3.4 million settlement to avoid continued legal costs. Both parties agreed to the settlement in January.

The settlement caps off years of legal disputes between Stewart and NDOC, some of which addressed the controversial topic of qualified immunity, which protects government officials from lawsuits alleging that they violated a plaintiff’s rights if their behavior does not clearly violate an established law.

In 2022, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a lower court that qualified immunity did not apply in this case because the prison staff violated the Constitution by choosing “a medically unacceptable course of treatment for the circumstances.”

“At some point ‘wait and see’ becomes deny and delay,” Judge Eugene Siler wrote in the appeals panel's opinion. “Plaintiff’s condition sharply deteriorated during his last few years at Southern Desert Correctional Center. Yet prison officials never deviated from their ‘wait and see’ treatment plan.”

Under the settlement terms, Stewart will receive more than $1.4 million, with an additional $1.7 million covering attorney’s fees. NDOC will pay for just $500 of the settlement, with the rest coming from a state fund related to personal injury settlements.


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