That’s the question behind a 2015 lawsuit against the Minnesota Department of Corrections. Peter Erlinder and Peter Nickitas, both of the International Humanitarian Law Institute, filed on behalf of hepatitis-C positive prisoners. They argued that prisoners should receive a new, lifesaving hepatitis C treatment the FDA had approved in 2013 — even if it was costly.
“The first one that was approved retailed for $93,000 for a course of treatment,” Mohring explains. The cost has come down, but at $15,000, is still significant.
In 2017, Ciresi Conlin attorneys, including Katie Crosby Lehmann, Andrew Mohring, Esther Agbaje, and Mike Ciresi, became lead counsel. The court later certified a class of all untreated Minnesota prisoners known to have hepatitis-C, for purposes of an Eighth Amendment claim.
The case settled less than two weeks before a bench trial was to begin. The settlement provides access to treatment to Minnesota prisoners at all stages of the disease.
“I credit the DOC, because throughout the case, they improved their policy and treated more people,” Crosby Lehmann says.
The case doesn’t set a legal precedent. But Crosby Lehmann hopes it leads other attorneys to follow their example, and pursue cases that improve living conditions for others even when the case may not be profitable.
“For these kind of cases, you really have to have your heart in the right place,” she says.
Katie Crosby Lehmann and Mike Ciresi are Circle of Excellence Attorneys of the Year.
Read more about Minnesota Lawyer’s superb class of Attorneys of the Year for 2019 here.
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