MORRISTOWN, N.J. – March 27, 2020 - The Law Firm of Smith + Schwartzstein LLC recently obtained a $2 million settlement against the County of Morris in a wrongful death case involving an individual in custody at the Morris County Jail.

The plaintiff, Charles Petrock, Jr., a 42-year-old man with five children, was pulled over for having a broken taillight, and was subsequently arrested for driving with a suspended license.  He was then brought to the Morris County Jail.  Three days after his arrest, Mr. Petrock was found dead in his cell of apparent heart failure, although his death was not reported for several hours.  His Estate alleged that individuals working at the Morris County Jail were negligent and failed to provide the minimum necessary care to Mr. Petrock while he was at the Morris County Jail.

Commenting on the settlement, Andrew Smith, partner at Smith + Schwartzstein LLC, and attorney for the Estate of Charles Petrock, said, “While nothing can bring back Charles Petrock, Jr., his family now has solace that some justice has been served and that the County is being held accountable.”

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Smith added, “This case highlights the need for more oversight of correctional facilities which are mandated by law to provide sufficient medical care to individuals in their custody who cannot, due to their incarceration, seek medical attention themselves. While it is too late for Mr. Petrock and his family, we hope this case will lead to actions such that the tragedy here is not repeated.”

The Petrock Estate first alleged that despite the intake nurse being told that Mr. Petrock had congestive heart failure and an enlarged heart, no nursing care plan was set up for him at the time he was processed into the Morris County Jail.  The Estate then alleged that shortly thereafter, Mr. Petrock reported dizziness and was observed as having an unsteady gait.  His chart was never reviewed and, despite his congestive condition, the nurse recommended that he just “drink fluids.”  No nursing plan was implemented at that point either, nor were any red flags raised. According to the Estate’s allegations, at approximately 11 pm on the night of his death, the officer on duty noticed that Mr. Petrock was vomiting, but failed to notify the medical department until later in the night.  The officer claimed that he did notify the night nurse, but the night nurse failed to check on Mr. Petrock despite his continued vomiting that documents show lasted until approximately 1:30 am.  The Estate alleged that these failures by Morris County Jail employees to provide Mr. Petrock with the proper care lead to his subsequent death.

Per the Estate’s allegations, the Morris County Jail’s standard operating procedures specifically state that a night officer’s “paramount responsibility” is to verify an inmate’s “signs of life,” – including checking for ”skin and movement” – every 30 minutes. But the officers on duty admitted in deposition testimony that they did not check for both ”skin and movement” on the night in question, leaving Mr. Petrock – per the Estate’s expert - dead in his cell for between five (5) and six (6) hours, during which time they should have verified he was alive between ten (10) and twelve (12) times.      

The Estate also submitted several other expert reports, including one from a former warden of a County Jail, which found the conduct of the officers to have been negligent and in violation of their duty of care; one from a nurse with thirty (30) years’ experience in corrections nursing who found the nurses had been negligent and violated of their duty of care; and one from a cardiologist linking the alleged negligence to Mr. Petrock’s death. 

Prior to trial, the parties settled for $2 million.  A final order was issued on March 6, 2020.  Mr. Petrock is survived by his parents, Charles and Jaime Petrock, his wife Diane Petrock and their children Charles and Gabriella Petrock, his children who were adopted by his parents, Marissa Petrock, Charlize Petrock, and Kailee Petrock, and his sisters, Anne Marie Petrock and Christina Tsanakos.

About Smith + Schwartzstein

Smith + Schwartzstein is a litigation and business law firm that emphasizes practical, real-world solutions that put bringing value to the client first. Attorneys Andrew Smith and Kathryn Schwartzstein founded the firm ten (10) years ago with the goal of providing individuals and small businesses with large law firm services and sophistication. The attorneys at Smith + Schwartzstein take pride in outthinking and outworking competitors while providing comprehensive, full-service legal service combined with a user-friendly approach. The firm’s ultimate goal is to meet clients’ needs, ensuring their satisfaction during every step of the legal process.  Smith + Schwartzstein lawyers have experience in a broad spectrum of matters relating to personal injury law, sexual harassment and discrimination cases, business law, construction law and general corporate matters including contract drafting and negotiation, software licensing, corporate formation and other issues. 

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