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Eighth Amendment

If I Get Sick in Prison, Can I Sue?

Let’s face it, prisons aren’t exactly sterile environments. And some states (e.g. California) are just regaining control of health care in correctional facilities after federal authorities had to take over because of allegations of substandard care. Therefore, getting sick in prison is a distinct possibility, especially if you have a previous condition like diabetes or heart disease. So if you get sick in prison, or if your condition worsens due to prison conditions, can you sue for damages? Finding the Right Claim Filing a lawsuit for injuries in jail or prison can be tricky. There are several options, depending on the circumstances, and each has its own legal hurdles and pitfalls: Cruel and Unusual Punishment: A suit for violating the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment is possible, and the inmate would need to prove (1) prison employees knew about the dangerous or risky condition, (2) failed to remedy the condition, and (3) the inmate’s fundamental rights were therefore violated. (These are generally made under Section 1983 of the U.S. Code and the Prison Litigation Reform Act.) CRIPA Complaint: the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) provides a way for federal inmates to reports complaints of rights violations or abuse directly to the Department of Justice, however CRIPA complaints are limited to prison-wide or systemic issues rather than individual issues. Bivens Actions: Like Section 1983 claims, so-called Bivens actions are based on a violation of constitutional rights or of federal law. State Tort Claims: If all of the above are unavailable, an inmate may be able to sue under standard theories of negligence; however, many public officials have qualified immunity, which shields them from civil liability. Finding the Right Defendant As all of the above claims are particular to certain scenarios, they are also limited to specific defendants. For example, Bivens actions can only be brought against federal prisons and employees, while CRIPA complaints only apply to state-run institutions. And Section 1983 lawsuits can only be filed against state and local governments, not against the federal government or private prison companies. As you can see, suing for getting sick in prison can be incredibly complicated. If you’ve gotten sick in prison, you may want to contact an experienced injury attorney to discuss whether you have a claim. Related Resources: Have an injury claim? Get your claim reviewed for free. (Consumer Injury) Abused Behind Bars? What Can You Do? (FindLaw’s Injured) Arnold Schwarzenegger Sued by Calif. Inmates Over Valley Fever (FindLaw’s Celebrity Justice) Rights of Inmates (FindLaw)
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NYC Inmate ‘Baked to Death’ in Hot Jail Cell: Report

A New York jail inmate was found dead in his cell in February, with officials citing malfunctioning equipment as to why he was "basically baked to death." An autopsy performed on Jerome Murdough, 56, was inconclusive but initial findings indicated to officials that the mentally ill ex-Marine died of extreme dehydration or heat stroke, officials told The Associated Press. Murdough was in a cell that reportedly was overheated to at least 100 degrees. What recourse do prisoners have for overheated cells? Trespass Arrest Lands Man in Jail Murdough's story is a rather sad one. The former Marine was homeless, and taking shelter in a Harlem stairwell, when police arrested him for trespassing. According to the AP, a week later, Murdough was found dead in his Rikers Island cell. It's common in many cities for homeless persons to end up in jail for trespassing (absent creative sentencing), and it's also not uncommon for these inmates to have mental illness. Murdough's mother Alma told the AP her son suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. New York City has been caught trying to unlawfully isolate the mentally ill before, but it appears that in Murdough's case it was fatal. Mental illness advocates point to him not being supervised closely enough in "a special observation unit for inmates with mental illnesses," which may have lead to his death, the AP reports. According to city officials, Murdough was located in Rikers Island's "mental-observation unit" and was supposed to be checked every 15 minutes as part of "suicide watch." Potential Liability for Extreme Heat Lawsuits alleging abysmal conditions behind bars are fairly common. Inmates and prisoners often face issues such as cockroach infestations, questionable medical care, and even lethal heat. In Southern states like Louisiana and Texas, prison facilities can put inmates at lethal risk of heat stroke -- which may qualify as cruel and unusual punishment. Under the Eighth Amendment, even convicts who are sentenced to death should not be slowly baked to death in their cells. According to the AP, the family "wants an explanation" for Murdough's death, and that desire may eventually bring them to court. Related Resources: Rikers Island Struggles With a Surge in Violence and Mental Illness (The New York Times) Vegas Cellmate Killing Leads to $10M Lawsuit (FindLaw's Injured) HS Football Deaths in GA, SC, TX Blamed on Heat, Practice (FindLaw's Tarnished Twenty) Inmate Can't Sue for Prison for Injury (FindLaw's Injured)
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