The medical services at the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) are an absolute disaster. And why wouldn’t’ they be? It was perfectly predictable. MDC hired a prison medical contractor with a horrendous record of medical care in New Mexico and beyond. The medical provider left the NMCD contract early. Then the same contractor left the MDC contract early. Perhaps, it was the inexplicable explosion in deaths of MDC inmates that drove them out. MDC then in its wisdom then hired another contractor, whose NMCD contract was terminated early due to some pretty horrendous behavior on its part. Thus, the recent reporting from the Albuquerque Journal depicting what can only be described as a medical catastrophe in progress was not surprising.
The death toll for MDC detainees has skyrocketed over the terms of the last 2 medical contractors. The rising indefensible death toll at MDC was perfectly predictable and expected. A federal court Declaration by a former MDC nurse who worked for both medical contractors fully depicts the nightmarish medical conditions at MDC. Worse, it shows the worst it yet to come. [INSERT DECLARATION]
MDC Now Subject to New Mexico Civil Rights Act
In the past, New Mexico jails and prisons seemed to hold all the cards when it came to inmate lawsuits. Federal civil rights claims for even extreme medical neglect under §1983 were extremely difficult to pursue and still are. Federal civil rights claims for medical neglect were and continue to be routinely dismissed in the very early stages of litigation due the very high evidentiary burdens on inmate plaintiffs. In fact, it seems that prisons and theirs contractors have a license to kill under federal law due to qualified immunity. As a result, inmates had to proceed in federal court with a very high possibility of failure or proceed in state court on strictly state law medical malpractice claims where they faced obscenely low caps on damages. For instance, a wrongful death case against a prison had a $400,000 cap on compensation. Thus, the inmate was faced with either obscenely low caps in state court or near certain defeat in federal court.
The New Mexico Civil Rights Act has a $2 million cap. In addition, inmates may still recover caps under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act. Better still, an inmate can build a federal case in state court if the evidence presents itself and then bring the federal civil rights claims with a much reduced risk of dismissal.
Will MDC change improve its medical care for inmates? It seems unlikely from its recent contracting history and the resulting current state of medical care at MDC.
Double Jeopardy for MDC: Federal Civil Rights Claims May Follow From New Mexico Civil Rights Lawsuits
Perhaps the best news of all surrounding the New Mexico Civil Rights Act is the fact that federal civil rights claims under §1983, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act may still be brought in federal court following the state law claims in New Mexico court. The problem in federal court as mentioned has always been the very high evidentiary burden placed on inmates from the inception of the lawsuit. Because prisons and jails hold all the evidence and will go to great lengths to prevent inmates from obtaining that evidence, inmates arrive in federal court with insufficient evidence to support a federal civil rights lawsuit. Unfortunately, due to federal rules and law, this is deadly for inmate medical negligence claims. With the benefit of the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, plaintiff inmates no longer arrive at federal court with no evidence. Specifically, If during the course of state law discovery, evidence sufficient to support federal claims is uncovered, plaintiff inmates can then bring their federal claims with a much reduced risk of dismissal. Better yet, there are no damage caps no federal civil rights claims. In other words, MDC continued gross neglect of inmate medical care is putting the County at huge financial risks. Again, will this change anything? The answer sadly is probably not.
First and Last Resort: New Mexico Medical Malpractice Claims
Along with New Mexico Civil Rights claims, state law medical malpractice claims can be filed in state court. Some medical malpractice cases are simply that, purely medical malpractice cases. If that is the case, then the state court lawsuit will proceed somewhat like a regular non-jail medical malpractice case. State medical malpractice claims are again much easier to pursue in New Mexico courts than in federal. So even if the facts do not support federal or even New Mexico civil rights claims, the plaintiff inmate still has a shot at compensation for the injuries caused by the medical malpractice.
Medical Atrocities at MDC and NMCD Far Beyond Medical Malpractice
Collins & Collins, P.C. has filed 30 suits in the last 4 years against New Mexico jails and prisons. These have included 26 against NMCD and its medical contractors, including 23 against Centurion Correctional Healthcare alone. The firm has seen a big uptake in cases from MDC with numerous death cases already filed or under review. Judging by the reporting, the declaration from the MDC/Corizon nurse and the calls coming in from MDC inmates and their loved ones, this is unfortunately a trend that will not soon end. In fact, it is unfortunately likely to get much worse than what we have already seen and we have seen some horrifying medical treatment in New Mexico jails and prisons some of which may be reasonably categorized as medical torture.
Simply put the medical atrocities occurring at MDC are not simple medical negligence. It is deliberate, it is cruel and it is deadly. It is plainly violative of the civil rights of MDC inmates.
Contact Collins & Collins, P.C. For a Free Review of Your Case
If you or a loved one have been harmed by medical neglect while in the custody of MDC, contact Collins & Collins, P.C. for a free review of your case. There are never any fees other than a percentage of the compensation received from a settlement or verdict.
Do not delay contacting an attorney, whether it be Collins & Collins, P.C. or another law firm. As with all things regarding the rights of prisoners, there are many traps that will prevent you from access to Court. The first is the requirement that you timely file grievances under the PLRA and its New Mexico counterpart. There are grossly unfair 5 day deadlines on filing grievances. There is also a short 90 day deadline on the Tort Claims Notice requirement. The New Mexico Civil Rights Act has a much more generous one year notice deadline. But each of these deadlines may prove fatal to your claims. They are not to be taken lightly.
The legal landscape has changed for the better for inmate and prisoner rights in New Mexico. If you have been severely harmed by MDC medical neglect, you owe it to yourself, your family and all New Mexico inmates to assert your newly acquired rights to their utmost.