Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Monday, January 13, 2014
Cuban hurt by Coast Guard sues for medical costs

A former Cuban migrant who claims he almost lost his leg after being struck by the propeller of a Coast Guard vessel is suing the U.S. for damages, according to a federal lawsuit filed in Key West.

Alexis Viera Borges was on a small, wooden vessel that left the port of Mariel, Cuba, in May 2012 with 20 to 30 other migrants. While they were within sight of the Florida Keys, their boat was stopped by two Coast Guard boats sent from the Miami-based Cutter Dauntless, according to the lawsuit.

While the two smaller Coast Guard boats were positioning themselves between the migrant boat and land, one of the them "collided violently with (Borges') vessel, causing him to be thrown into the ocean," where his right lower leg was struck by the Coast Guard boat's propeller, the lawsuit states.

When Borges was brought aboard the Dauntless, it was clear his leg was broken as bone was visible, but Borges alleges that Coast Guard crews stapled the wound closed "without any treatment for the bone fracture," court records state.

Borges subsequently developed an infection over the four days he was aboard the cutter and was taken to Lower Keys Medical Center once it arrived in Key West, and then Metropolitan Hospital of Miami, where he was admitted for about 42 days, according to the lawsuit.

The infection spread to the bone and Borges allegedly suffered other complications such as kidney failure.

"This is not a case where we are alleging that the Coast Guard intentionally rammed the vessel in any way," said defense attorney Jonathan Aronson of Miami.

Borges almost lost his leg after the incident. He was able to stay in the U.S., and he currently resides in Miami. Everyone else on the Cuban boat was returned to Cuba, Aronson said.

Aronson alleges the U.S. was negligent in four central ways:

• By failing to diagnose his injury and properly treating him while aboard the Dauntless.

• Failing to promptly transport him to a hospital via helicopter while aboard the Dauntless.

• Exacerbating his injuries by failing to provide immediate care.

• Unreasonably delaying any explanation on how Borges could obtain appropriate medical care.

The lawsuit doesn't state how much money Borges is seeking, only that he is asking for the U.S. government for "all compensatory damages permitted by law."

U.S. Department of Justice attorney Jessica McClellan did not return messages seeking comment.

U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez will preside over the case. No tentative trial date had been set as of Friday.

alinhardt@keysnews.com

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