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Coronavirus and wrongful death lawsuits


The family of Leon Martinez, an inmate at a California state prison, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit following their loved one’s death from COVID-19 while in custody. It represents the first such legal action over a loss of life directly associated with the pandemic.

While this represents the only legal action against the San Diego-based facility, it is part of the statewide total of seven wrongful death lawsuits in prisons throughout the Golden State.

An alarming trend

Convicted of murder and serving 28 years to life in prison, Martinez died at the age of 48, representing the youngest of 18 inmates housed in the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility to lose their lives to the coronavirus. His death was part of a winter outbreak where 18 inmates were infected, and 18 died. Statewide statistics saw approximately 50,000 prisoners diagnosed with the virus, with more than 200 losing their lives.

The coronavirus spread rapidly inside jails and prisons to those already at higher rates of pre-existing conditions, making them more susceptible to the deadly illness. Housed at Donovan, Martinez was one of more than 1,000 tested positive since the start of the worldwide health crisis.

The family alleges that when Martinez was diagnosed, necessary and potentially life-saving medical was not provided. To make matters worse, officials admitted to inmates diagnosed with the virus housed with prisoners not infected.

Documentation reveals that Donovan possesses one of the poorest track records in all of California adult prisons, particularly for its inactions during the pandemic. The facility received the most written citations over not wearing masks and not practicing social distancing in December of 2020.

The timeline coincides with Martinez and others contracting the virus.