Prisoners’ Rights Attorney in Minnesota Assists Inmates with Civil Rights Claims
Prisoners, inmates, and detainees in jail and prison have a right to adequate medical care when they are awaiting trial in the pretrial stage as well as when they are serving a jail or prison sentence. The Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives prisoners a right to adequate medical care, and many states also have specific laws in their constitutions that give prisoners a right to adequate medical care under state law. When a prisoner, inmate, or detainee has not been provided with adequate medical care and suffers an injury, that prisoner (or his or her family if the prisoner died as a result of the lack of medical care) may be able to file a claim for a constitutional violation. Generally speaking, in order to file a constitutional claim for inadequate medical care, the plaintiff must prove that the jail or prison showed “deliberate indifference toward the serious medical needs” of the prisoner.
For a legal consultation with a deliberate indifference to medical needs in jail lawyer serving Minneapolis, call 612-349-2729
What is the standard for deliberate medical indifference in jail?
It is important to understand that the standard of “deliberate indifference” is different from what a plaintiff needs to prove in a tort case based on a theory of negligence. To be clear, when a prisoner suffers harm due to inadequate medical care in a jail or prison, it may be possible to file a constitutional claim as well as a tort claim. The constitutional claim requires the plaintiff to prove deliberate indifference, while a tort claim typically only requires that the plaintiff prove negligence. The two standards are quite different, and we will explain in more detail how a “deliberate indifference” claim works.
Ultimately, if you have questions about filing a lawsuit for a prisoner injury resulting from the deliberate indifference to medical needs, you should speak with a Minnesota prisoners’ rights attorney for help.
Minneapolis Deliberate Indifference to Medical Needs in Jail Lawyer Near Me 612-349-2729
Eighth Amendment Violations for Inadequate Medical Care Under the U.S. Constitution
To understand the standard of deliberate indifference to a prisoner’s medical needs, you need to know how the right to adequate medical care exists under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. A landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Estelle v. Gamble (1976), clarified that jails and prisons must provide adequate medical care to prisoners under the Eighth Amendment.
In that case, a prisoner was working in a textile mill on work assignment. A 600-pound bale of cotton fell on him, but he continued to perform the work assignment tasks for several hours. Later on, he asked to go to the hospital. He went to the hospital, was given a checkup for a hernia, and was then sent to his cell. After returning to his cell, the prisoner began to experience severe pain, and he returned to the hospital. A nurse provided him with pain medication, then a hospital doctor examined him and did not provide additional treatment. The prisoner continued to experience pain that prevented him from working, and the prison placed him in solitary confinement for refusing to work. In total, he was seen 17 times by medical personnel, yet he never received a back X-ray or treatment for his back injury.
In ruling on the case, the Supreme Court clarified that a failure to provide adequate medical care to prisoners can, in some circumstances, constitute cruel and unusual punishment, which is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment. However, the Court held that the particular prisoner’s case did not rise to the level of an Eighth Amendment violation because the negligent or inadvertent failure to provide adequate medical care does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment. In order for an Eighth Amendment violation to occur, jail or prison personnel must show “deliberate indifference to serious medical needs.”
What is Deliberate Indifference to an Inmate’s Medical Needs?
After Estelle made clear that inadequate medical care only violates the Eighth Amendment when there is a “deliberate indifference to serious medical needs,” the U.S. Supreme Court explained what constitutes such deliberate indifference in a later case. In Farmer v. Brennan (1994), the Court ruled that prison officials can be liable for “deliberate indifference” as an Eighth Amendment violation if there is a substantial risk of serious harm to the prisoner, the prison official has subjective knowledge about the substantial risk of harm, and the prison official disregards it.
In Farmer, a transgender prisoner underwent estrogen therapy and sex reassignment surgery. The prisoner was kept separate from the general male population due in part to safety concerns for the prisoner. However, the prisoner was later transferred to a different prison and was placed in the general male population. In that prison, the prisoner was beaten and raped by a cellmate. The prisoner filed a claim alleging that the prison officials violated the prisoner’s Eighth Amendment rights by deliberately and indifferently failing to protect that prisoner. The key in such a case, according to the Court, is whether prison officials know about or have knowledge of risk to a prisoner and deliberately and indifferently disregard that risk.
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Defining a “Serious Medical Need” in a Deliberate Indifference Case
If a plaintiff makes a deliberate indifference claim after suffering injuries due to inadequate medical care, that plaintiff needs to prove deliberate indifference to a serious medical need in order to have a valid Eighth Amendment claim. What constitutes a “serious medical need”? Various courts have considered this question. Some factors that courts consider in determining whether the prisoner had a serious medical need include the following:
- “Whether a reasonable doctor or patient would perceive the medical need in question as important and worthy of comment or treatment”;
- “Whether the medical condition significantly affects daily activities”; and
- “The existence of chronic and substantial pain.
In an Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals case, the court looked to see whether a condition “has been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment or . . . is so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity of a doctor’s attention.” The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has defined a serious medical need as a situation in which the “failure to treat a prisoner’s condition could result in further significant injury or the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.”
A number of courts have made clear that a prisoner can experience a serious medical need even if the condition is not a life-threatening one. Moreover, a prisoner can also have a serious medical condition under the Eighth Amendment even if the failure to treat the condition does not result in it getting worse, but the condition causes severe pain. Some courts have even determined that the later stages of a prisoner’s pregnancy can constitute a serious medical need.
Ultimately, the specific definition of a “serious medical need” used by a court may depend upon the location of the court and any authoritative law from the federal appeals courts. If you have questions about whether you may have a valid claim under the Eighth Amendment for cruel and unusual punishment due to deliberate indifference to a serious medical need, you should discuss the specific facts of your case with a prisoners’ rights attorney who has experiencing bringing similar constitutional law claims.
Key Information about a Deliberate Indifference Case
In sum, in order to bring a claim for a jail or prison’s deliberate indifference to a serious medical need, a plaintiff will need to be able to show the following:
- Prisoner had a serious medical need;
- Jail or prison personnel showed deliberate indifference to that serious medical need by recognizing the risk associated with the medical need and failing to seek or allow adequate medical care or treatment for the prisoner.
Accordingly, if you are wondering whether you have a claim, you should consider some of the following questions:
- Did the condition meet any of the likely definitions of a serious medical condition?
- What makes the medical condition serious?
- Did the jail or prison personnel understand that the medical condition was serious?
- If the jail or prison personnel understood that the prisoner faced a serious risk of harm as a result of the medical condition, did the jail or prison personnel disregard that risk?
It is important to remember that, even if you cannot bring a claim for an Eighth Amendment violation, it may still be possible to file a negligence claim under state law. A prisoner who suffers harm due to inadequate medical care may still be able to file a personal injury lawsuit under a theory of negligence if the jail or prison did not provide adequate medical care. With a negligence claim, the prisoner (or the prisoner’s family, if the prisoner died as a result of inadequate medical care) will not need to prove that the jail or prison personnel knew about the risk and intentionally disregarded it. Rather, the prisoner will need to show that the jail or prison was negligent in the medical care it provided or omitted. In many cases, understaffing at a jail or prison can lead to a successful negligence lawsuit.
Contact a Civil Rights Attorney Representing Injured Prisoners
If you did not receive adequate medical care in prison, or if you lost a loved one due to inadequate medical care in a jail or prison, a Minnesota prisoner rights lawyer can help. Contact Madia Law today to learn more about how we can assist you.