Prisoners, now more than ever, are at a great risk for medical mistreatment. The problem of medical treatment in prisons has been increased by the use of contractors and sub-contractors to run the prisons and provide medical care. By their very nature they are shielded from public view, with very limited rights and little power to redress wrongs against them.
The medical negligence is not limited to physical problems, but includes mental and emotional issues as well. Studies have shown that a disproportionate number of prisoners in the American penal system suffer from mental health issues which is often severely neglected.
The United States Supreme Court has consistently stated that prisons have an obligation to provide adequate medical care to prisoners, because not doing so would constitute “cruel and unusual punishment.” Typically, medical malpractice suits require the plaintiff to prove that the medical provider‘s actions were below the standard of care ordinarily expected in the local community. This standard holds true for personal injury lawsuits against the medical providers in a prison or jail.
For a civil rights claim, a prisoner may also allege “deliberate indifference,” where he or she must prove a serious medical need, that the persons or entities being sued knew of that need, and that they intentionally or deliberately failed to provide the required treatment. If the prison personnel are not aware of the prisoner‘s medical condition, then they will not be held liable for any alleged inadequate care.
For example, in January 2012, a federal jury in New Mexico awarded $22 million to a man for medical mistreatment. Stephen Slevin was arrested for driving while intoxicated. The prison personnel believed Slevin was suicidal and he was first placed in a padded cell for three days, before being transferred into solitary confinement.
At one point, Slevin was forced to pull his own tooth because he was denied dental treatment. His toenails began to curl around his foot, and he developed fungal infections. Despite the initial concerns about Slevin‘s mental health, prison officials failed to provide any mental health treatment. Since his release, Slevin was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, which will likely mean taking medication for the rest of his life.
Prisoners may also make a claim for delayed medical treatment, even where the treatment is provided in the end. In this type of case, the prisoner must show that a negative result was caused by the delay in treatment. However, even when the medical incident is severe, like a heart attack, the prison will not be liable if there is no proof that the delay in treatment caused the prisoner additional problems.
Deliberate indifference cases by prisoners are often brought in federal court. The federal court rules also allow the prisoner to then bring medical malpractice claims under New Mexico law as well. By bringing both sets of claims, the chances of accountability are increased.
It is important to note that, like many types of cases involving injury, the statute of limitations begins to run when you discover the problem. In many cases, this is very straightforward, but sometimes it isn‘t.
In the case of suits against prisons and jails for medical malpractice, there are a number of important deadlines. These include all the unique deadlines associated with medical malpractice claims as well as those under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act and the Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act.
Medical malpractice cases are quite complex. They are made even more so in the prison or jail environment. It is important to contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible following an incident of medical malpractice in jail or prison. The deadlines are real and they are serious. Missing one can bar your claims completely.
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