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The United States Supreme Court has recognized that all inmates in the United States correctional system have a constitutionally guaranteed right to “adequate medical care” under the United States Constitution’s Eighth Amendment protections from “cruel and unusual punishment.” As a result, federal penitentiaries, state prisons, and county jails are required to provide medical care to all of their inmates through correctional healthcare staff or privately contracted correctional healthcare companies.
Yet, despite the requirements to provide inmates with such care, correctional facilities often either purposefully, or as a byproduct of limited resources and overpopulation, fail to provide seriously ill and injured inmates with their constitutionally guaranteed care. Refusal to treat inmates is most prevalent in correctional facilities with privately contracted correctional healthcare companies, whose primary focus is often limiting their healthcare expenditures in favor of corporate profits.
Regardless of the circumstances which contribute to such actions, a correctional facility’s failure or refusal to treat their inmates constitutes a willful violation of that inmate’s eighth amendment rights and is classified as either negligence or deliberate indifference under the law. The specific circumstances of an inmate’s failed or refused treatment, the severity of their injury or illness, the injuries the inmate suffered as a byproduct of their refused care, and the notice correctional facility healthcare providers had regarding the need for treatment are the primary determinative factors in the actionability of each claim.
Negligence by a correctional facility and their healthcare staff takes place whenever an inmate is injured (or has an existing injury or illness worsened) as a byproduct of being refused timely access to necessary treatment, medication, or evaluation by a physician after presenting a medical concern. Negligence claims may be brought regardless of the severity of an inmate’s original injury, however, are considered much more compelling and actionable if the failure to treat resulted in significant damages or death.
A correctional facility’s failure or refusal to treat inmates rises to the level of constitutional deprivation, referred to as deliberate indifference, when correctional healthcare staff “recklessly disregards a risk of harm” and refuses to treat an inmate after being made aware of a serious medical need. A “serious medical need” is defined as an injury or illness that has previously been diagnosed or is so obvious that any reasonable doctor or patient would recognize the need for a physician’s attention. Serious medical needs are considered to be apparent when they significantly impede the ability of an inmate to perform regular daily activities and cause chronic or substantial pain.
Notably, deliberate indifference claims have a significantly higher evidentiary standard than negligence claims and are considered to be much more serious, as they include a component of intent and knowledge of the harm that will fall upon an inmate whose access to care is limited.
Whether acting negligently or deliberately indifferent, all correctional facilities and their contracted healthcare providers are legally liable for any and all damages inflicted as a result of their failure or refusal to provide inmates with their constitutionally guaranteed medical care and treatment. Inmates (or their estates) who’ve suffered serious injury or death stemming from the negligence or deliberate indifference of correctional healthcare providers, may sue those responsible providers for compensatory and punitive damages in a tort law claim.
The highly qualified and dedicated team of attorneys at Paulson Coletti Trial Attorneys PC has extensive experience litigating negligence, deliberate indifference and medical malpractice claims against prisons and correctional healthcare providers in all 50 states of the United States. Many of our past claims have resulted in multi-million-dollar awards for infections and surgical errors, medication interruption, and problems with medical staff.
If a loved one or someone you know suffered serious injury or death stemming from failure or refusal to provide treatment while incarcerated, contact Paulson Coletti Trial Attorneys PC at (503) 226-6361 or fill out our online intake form today for your free case evaluation.