Minnesota Civil Rights Lawyers Help Prisoners in Jail with Alcohol Withdrawal
Many alcoholics are arrested for various charges, which results in that person no longer having access to alcohol. Like other types of substances and for people with substance abuse issues, it is not easy to simply stop consuming alcohol. To be sure, when an alcoholic does not have access to alcohol, she or he can suffer from severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms that ultimately may lead to death. When an inmate in a county jail or state prison suffers symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, the law enforcement officials, guards, and other employees at the jail or prison need to be able to recognize these symptoms and to take action in order to prevent a serious injury or death.
Inmates and prisoners have right to adequate medical treatment, which includes treatment for alcohol withdrawal. If the guards and officers of a jail or prison negligently fail to recognize alcohol withdrawal symptoms or intentionally withhold medical treatment from an inmate suffering from delirium tremens, the jail or prison and its personal may be accountable for the inmate’s death. While we know how difficult it can be for families to even think about filing a lawsuit after losing a loved one, it is essential to hold these jails and prisons accountable. By filing a civil rights lawsuit, you can hold the responsible parties accountable for your loved one’s death, and you can also help to illuminate the importance of upholding prisoners’ civil rights. Contact a Minnesota prisoners’ rights attorney today.
For a legal consultation with a alcohol withdrawal in jail lawyer serving Minneapolis, call 612-349-2729
What is Alcohol Withdrawal and Why Is It Dangerous?
When a person heavily consumes alcohol for a prolonged period of time, suddenly avoiding alcohol can have serious consequences. Alcohol withdrawal is a term that refers to the body’s changes when a person such as an alcohol suddenly stops using alcohol, according to Harvard Health. Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may include but are not limited to:
- Anxiety; and
- Other physical and mental symptoms.
Why does alcohol withdrawal occur? To begin with, when a person consumes alcohol, it produces a sedating effect or a depressant effect, according to Harvard Health. When a person suffers from alcohol addiction and drinks heavily over a long period of time, “the brain is almost continually exposed to the depressant effect of alcohol.” As a result, that person’s brain will ultimately adjust “its own chemistry to compensate for the effect of alcohol.” To do this, the brain will produce more amounts of stimulating chemicals like serotonin or norepinephrine. Accordingly, a person who suffers from alcoholism will regularly produce more serotonin, norepinephrine, or other stimulating brain chemicals than a person who is not an alcoholic.
When an alcoholic suddenly stops consuming alcohol, the brain becomes overstimulated. Harvard Health describes it like this: “the brain is like an accelerated vehicle that has lost its brakes.” Depending upon a variety of factors, a person who experiences alcohol withdrawal may experience minor or life-threatening symptoms. About 1 out of every 20 people who experiences alcohol withdrawal will go through the most serious form of alcohol withdrawal known as “delirium tremens.” You may have heard of this condition as the “DTs.”
If a person suffers from delirium tremens, his or her brain “is not able to smoothly readjust its chemistry after alcohol is stopped.” As a result, the person experiences extreme confusion and dangerous shifts in brain chemistry. The brain cannot properly regulate the person’s circulation or breathing systems, and the person’s blood pressure and heart rate can spike and drop “dramatically or unpredictably.” As such, a person with DTs can be at serious risk of a heart attack or a stroke, ultimately leading to death.
Minneapolis Alcohol Withdrawal in Jail Lawyer Near Me 612-349-2729
Signs of a Serious Alcohol Withdrawal Case
Jail and prison personnel need to be properly trained in order to recognize the signs and symptoms of delirium tremens and other indications that an inmate is going through alcohol withdrawal. When a person begins to suffer from alcohol withdrawal, she or he will need to receive medical treatment immediately. In particular, if a person is experiencing DTs, seizures, or severe vomiting, Harvard Health emphasizes that the person needs to receive immediate treatment in an intensive care unit (ICU) where blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing can be closely monitored. If necessary, a person suffering from severe alcohol withdrawal may need to be assisted by emergency life-support equipment, or they may need to receive benzodiazepines.
Employees at jails and prisons should recognize the following as common signs of alcohol withdrawal and should ensure that an inmate receives necessary medical care:
- Tremors or shakes: typically start anywhere from 5 to 10 hours after having a drink. Signs and symptoms can include trembling, shaking, a rapid pulse, an increase in blood pressure, rapid breathing, sweating, nausea, vomiting, irritability, nightmares, insomnia, or being in a “hyper-alert” state.
- Alcohol hallucinosis: typically begins anywhere from 12 to 24 hours after last consuming alcohol, and it can last for up to two days. The person experiencing this symptom of alcohol withdrawal often will hallucinate, or see or feel things that are not actually real.
- Alcohol withdrawal seizures: these can begin anywhere from 6 to 48 hours after last having a drink, and seizures can occur for several hours.
- Delirium tremens: usually begins two or three days after a person’s last drink, but sometimes symptoms will not start for more than a week after a person last consumed alcohol. As we mentioned above, this is one of the most serious and life-threatening symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Signs can include confusion or disorientation, loss of consciousness, nervous behavior, angry behavior, irrational behavior, extreme sweating, sleep disturbance, and hallucinations.
Prisoners’ Rights to Adequate Healthcare in Jails and Prisons
The Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires jails and prisons to provide adequate medical care to inmates and prisoners of jails and prisons. The U.S. Supreme Court made clear that failing to provide adequate medical treatment to an inmate or prisoner constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, which is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court case Estelle v. Gamble (1976) made clear that prisoners have rights to adequate medical care.
The U.S. Supreme Court further clarified an inmate’s right to adequate medical care in West v. Atkins (1988), explaining that inmates have a right to adequate medical care regardless of whether the medical care comes from a government employee or a private healthcare provider who is under contract with the government.
To be clear, a prisoner’s right to adequate medical treatment extends to adequate medical treatment for alcohol withdrawal symptoms. However, in order to make a constitutional claim, a plaintiff needs to be able to prove that the jail or prison, or its personnel, acted with “deliberate indifference” toward the inmate. This burden of proof is different from a sheer negligence claim for an alcohol withdrawal death in jail.
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Filing an Eighth Amendment Violation Claim
In order for the family members of an inmate who died from alcohol withdrawal in a jail to file a constitutional claim, the family will need to be able to prove that the jail or prison acted with “deliberate indifference to serious medical needs.” This requirement was established in another U.S. Supreme Court case, Farmer v. Brennan (1994). It is important to know that, in order to prove that jail personnel acted with “deliberate indifference” to the medical needs of an inmate suffering from alcohol withdrawal symptoms, negligence is not enough. To be sure, a poorly trained guard who did not properly recognize the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal will not be found to have acted with “deliberate indifference.”
Instead, to prove a person or parties acted with deliberate indifference, the plaintiff needs to be able to show that the jail or prison guard (or other employee in charge of the inmate or prisoner) recklessly disregarded a substantial risk of harm to the inmate or prisoner. To be clear, the plaintiff needs to be able to show that the jail or prison personnel recognized the medical risk to the inmate and disregarded that risk by failing to take steps for the inmate to receive medical care.
Filing a Negligence Claim for a Jail Alcohol Withdrawal Death
Even if a family cannot prove that a jail or prison acted with deliberate indifference, it may still be possible to file a negligence claim against the facility or its employees. Jails and prisons need to properly train staff to recognize signs of a serious medical condition, and to train employees to make certain that an inmate receives the medical care that she or he needs. Even if a jail guard did not intentionally avoid getting medical help for an inmate suffering from delirium tremens, the jail may still be liable for the negligent death of the inmate.
In such a situation, the family of the inmate may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit under state law. Under Minnesota wrongful death law, most wrongful death lawsuits must be filed within six years from the date of the death. However, that time window can vary depending upon other facts of the case. As such, it is important to discuss your case with an attorney.
Contact a Prisoners Rights Lawyer Assisting with Alcohol Withdrawal Death Cases
If your loved one died in jail as a result of alcohol withdrawal, an experienced Minnesota prisoners’ rights lawyer can discuss your options for filing a lawsuit. Contact Madia Law for more information.