A prison medical malpractice lawsuit lawyer can help if you or someone you care about suffered harm while incarcerated. Prisons, jails, and other correctional facilities are required to provide inmates with adequate medical care. The government can be sued if it failed to provide appropriate treatment and care to a person housed by the department of corrections.
When it comes to a prison medical malpractice case, the inmate or his or her family should speak with an experienced civil rights and injury lawyer. There may be several different parties to sue for negligence. This includes both the corrections facility and quite often a private correctional health care provider contracted by the government to provide care.
Contact the Buckfire Law Firm today for a free consultation. We will listen to your story and see if we can help. We charge no legal fees unless you win a settlement.
Understanding Prison Medical Malpractice Lawsuits
Medical malpractice lawsuits can be filed against a health care provider when negligent care results in a patient injury. Medical malpractice claims are not limited to suits against hospitals and doctors. Claims can be filed against prisons and private correctional health care providers when negligent medical care causes an inmate’s injury or death.
Prison medical malpractice claims are governed by state law. As such, it is the law of the state where the inmate is incarcerated that will apply to the case. Each state has its own distinct requirements for medical malpractice lawsuits, and you must abide by state law.
In general, the requirements to file a medical malpractice lawsuit are similar throughout the United States. The necessary elements of a medical malpractice claim require the plaintiff to prove the following elements:
• Duty: Health care providers owe their patients a duty of care. In general, whenever a doctor or other health care provider agrees to see a patient or to treat a patient in any capacity, a doctor-patient relationship exists, and the duty of care attaches. Accordingly, in a prison where an inmate needs medical care and a private correctional health care provider agrees to provide care to a patient, it is likely that this duty of care exists.
• Breach of the duty of care: A health care provider breaches the duty of care owed when the health care provider is negligent. Generally speaking, an injured plaintiff can prove that the health care provider was negligent and breached the duty of care if another health care provider in the same geographic region and medical field would have considered the care provided to be inadequate or unreasonable.
• Injury: A patient must actually suffer an injury due to the breach of the duty of care in order to have a valid claim. In other words, if a health care provider in a correctional facility is negligent but the inmate is not actually harmed or injured, then there will not be a valid medical malpractice claim. An injury must exist.
• Damages: As a result of the injury, the patient must have suffered an economic or non-economic loss or a combination of both. Non-economic losses include pain and suffering, disability, and loss of enjoyment of life.
Filing a Prisoner Wrongful Death Lawsuit
When an inmate dies as a result of inadequate medical care, the surviving family members can file a wrongful death lawsuit. Wrongful death claims are also governed by state law. These cases demand compensation for the loss of companionship of the loved one as well as the suffering of the prisoner from the time of the medical mistake until death.
In some states, surviving family members can be eligible to file the claim themselves, while other states require a personal representative of the deceased’s estate to file the lawsuit.
It is important to discuss the specifics of your case with an experienced attorney. Our law firm will determine if you have a case, and if so, begin our investigation immediately.
Prisoners & Inmates Have a Right to Adequate Medical Care
Inmates in a prison or other type of correctional institute have a constitutional right to adequate medical care. They cannot be neglected or ignored merely because they are incarcerated.
In some cases, inadequate medical care can rise to the level of a constitutional violation under federal law. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Estelle v. Gamble (1976) that the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires prisons to provide adequate medical care to prisoners and that, in some circumstances, the failure to provide medical care can rise to the level of cruel and unusual punishment.
However, in that case, and in subsequent cases, the U.S. Supreme Court has clarified that a prisoner (or his or her family) cannot make an Eighth Amendment claim unless the employees at the prison who failed to provide adequate medical care did so with “deliberate indifference to serious medical needs.
Nearly two decades after Estelle, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed in Farmer v. Brennan (1994) that a prisoner can only bring an Eighth Amendment claim if there is a “deliberate indifference to serious medical needs.” It must be proven that prison employees either must know about a prisoner’s serious medical needs or know about a serious risk to a prisoner’s health to be liable under the Eighth Amendment.
In addition to a federal constitutional violation claim, a prisoner can bring a successful personal injury claim under the state’s medical malpractice laws. To win a medical malpractice case, the inmate does not need to show that there was any type of intentionality or deliberate indifference.
Rather, the injured person must prove that a reasonable health care provider would have acted differently under the same circumstances. Our lawyers will hire top medical experts to review your case to determine if the prison or health care company committed a medical mistake or error. If the expert agrees, we will file a lawsuit against all responsible parties.
Medical Care Deficiencies in Jails, Prisons, and Other Correctional Facilities
Inadequate inmate health care is a serious problem in jails, prisons, and other correctional facilities across the country. This negligence results in countless numbers of serious and injuries to death. Many of these are never reported or investigated.
A recent investigation conducted by WBUR “found inmates in county jails suffering, and sometimes dying, under the care of companies with contracts that provide incentives to curb costs and hospital trips.” That report explains, “these for-profit firms are increasingly taking over health care in jails . . . across the country.” They are “part of a multi-billion dollar industry with little public scrutiny.”
When inmates require hospital treatment or other specialized care, the institutional costs increase. The investigative report underscores that many correctional facilities attempt to “keep inmate trips to hospitals or medical specialists under 80 per month,” a small percentage of correctional facility populations. Some correctional facilities aim for even fewer hospital or specialist visits, with one facility reporting that it caps off-site trips at 20 per month.
Many prison contracts with private, for-profit health care providers contain have caps on expenses. When a correctional facility exceeds the cap, they are fined—often over $1,000. In some cases, correctional facilities are even offered monetary incentive bonuses if they keep off-site health care visits below a certain amount.
The investigative report suggests that private correctional health care contracts are “designed to curb costs” and to ensure that those for-profit healthcare companies earn a significant profit.
According to University of Massachusetts criminology professor Andrew Harris, “these companies are inherently motivated to make money,” and as a result “there are going to be situations where care is going to be withheld, very often with negative consequences for the patients.”
These negative consequences are often catastrophic injuries and even the deaths of inmates. Many private, for-profit health care providers are facing prison medical malpractice lawsuits.
Common Reasons for Prison Medical Malpractice Lawsuits
There are many different reasons for prison medical malpractice lawsuits against prisons and private correctional health care providers, including but not limited to the following:
- Drug withdrawal;
- Delirium tremens;
- Untreated blood clots;
- Untreated heart disease;
- Untreated stomach ulcers;
- Untreated seizure disorder or stroke;
- Untreated dental emergencies;
- Severe reactions to antibiotics and subsequent lack of treatment;
- Untreated broken bones;
- Delayed cancer diagnosis;
- Misdiagnosis in general;
- Denial of antibiotics and medication mistakes;
- Denial of pain treatment; and
- Failure to provide the necessary care in critical situations.
Major Health Care Providers in Correctional Institutions
There are a variety of private correctional health care providers in the U.S., but there are four major ones. Together, these four companies have annual revenue of approximately $782 million, and they serve more than 950,000 inmates nationwide. To put that number in perspective, these four companies alone provide healthcare to almost half of the entire population of inmates in corrections institutions, according to a report in Open Minds.
The following is information about each of those four providers:
• Corizon Health: Corizon Health is a private, for-profit company that is headquartered in Brentwood, Tennessee but has locations in 27 different states. It serves more than 345,000 inmates and operates at more than 530 different correctional facilities. In recent years, the company won a $50 million contract for corrections health care services in Missouri and has had a variety of contracts with other prisons renewed. According to a recent article in The Appeal, Corizon Health lost its contract with the Arizona Department of Corrections “after allegations of serious—and sometimes fatal—medical neglect.”
• Wellpath, formerly known as Correct Care Solutions, LLC: This private, for-profit company is headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee but serves jails and prisons in 38 states. In total, the company serves more than 300,000 inmates at more than 160 facilities across the country. Wellpath is a health care provider that solely provides services in jails, prisons, and inpatient and residential treatment facilities. Wellpath is the largest corrections healthcare company in the country, according to the WBUR investigative report. In the last five years alone, the for-profit health care provider has faced about 1,200 lawsuits from inmates or their families.
• MHM Services, Inc.: This private, for-profit health care provider is headquartered in Vienna, Virginia. It serves more than 280,000 inmates in more than 200 facilities across 12 different states. Unlike other large private, for-profit health care providers to correctional facilities, MHM Services, Inc. provides health care services to state and local government agencies across the U.S. While it does provide more than correctional health care services, such as community clinics and hospitals, it primarily focuses on patient health care in correctional facilities, courts, and juvenile facilities.
• Wexford Health Sources, Inc.: Wexford Health Sources is headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and is a private, for-profit health care provider that solely provides correctional health care programs. The company serves more than 150 facilities across seven different states and serves more than 112,000 inmates in correctional facilities. It has contracts in Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and other areas.
Prisoner Deaths in the United States Chart
The chart below shows the percentage of state prisoner fatalities by cause of death in the United States in 2016, according to data compiled by the Statista Research Department.
According to the data collected, approximately 85.6 percent of state prison inmate deaths were caused by illness in 2016, including 30.2% of which died of cancer.
Can I Sue Corizon Health and Other Private Health Care Providers?
Yes, a prisoner and inmate can sue Corizon Health and other companies for medical negligence. They are not immune from liability simply because treatment was provided at a prison.
Private prison healthcare companies have faced thousands of prison medical malpractice lawsuits and other claims for inadequate medical care in correctional facilities.
Examples of Prison Medical Malpractice Lawsuits, Verdicts, and Settlements
Examples of recent lawsuits, settlements, and verdicts include:
• In December 2018, an Oregon federal judge ordered Corizon Health and Washington County to pay $10 million after a 26-year-old inmate was found dead in her jail cell as a result of detoxing from heroin, according to an article in org. The inmate’s family filed the lawsuit against Corizon and the county. The article emphasized that, in agreeing to a $10 million settlement, Corizon was admitting fault and intimating it would rather pay an enormous settlement than “face the possible consequences of what a federal jury would do.”
• In 2016, Tyler Tabor, a 25-year-old inmate in the Adams County Detention Facility in Johnstown, Colorado, died after failing to receive necessary medical care as a heroin user. According to an article in org, Corizon Health was responsible for providing health care to inmates in the facility. The family sued Corizon and alleged that Tabor’s death “could have been prevented if he had been given an IV.” Corizon agreed to settle the lawsuit for $3.7 million in 2018.
• In 2018, Wellpath agreed to pay $625,000 to a family in Norfolk, Virginia after a 60-year-old inmate died as a result of an untreated bleeding stomach ulcer, according to an article in the Daily Press. The inmate was in the facility on a simple shoplifting charge and “begged for help for weeks” prior to dying from the untreated medical condition.
• In Dayton, Ohio, NaphCare, Inc., another private, for-profit correctional health care provider, agreed to a $500,000 settlement after it failed to provide appropriate medical care to a 28-year-old inmate who had a seizure while being restrained by guards and health care providers at Montgomery County Jail, according to an article in the Dayton Daily News.
• In 1996, a 37-year-old inmate, Clarence Cousins, was arrested on marijuana charges and placed in the Forsyth County jail in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, according to an article in the News Observer. The inmate informed a nurse at the facility that he regularly consumed “a fifth of liquor and a quart of beer on a daily basis” prior to being arrested, and he was placed in an area of the jail for inmates who needed to be monitored for medical conditions. Cousins was supposed to be monitored for symptoms for delirium tremens, which is a cardiovascular condition that affects people who suddenly stop using alcohol, and it can be fatal in about 37% of all cases. Cousins experienced symptoms of delirium tremens, and he “rang a cell alarm bell and was sweating and talking incoherently.” He was diagnosed with a mental disorder, was not treated for delirium tremens, and died of delirium tremens shortly thereafter. At the time, Correctional Medical Services (CMS), which has since become Corizon, had a contract with the facility. Cousins’ family sued, and the for-profit company settled the lawsuit for $175,000.
• In 2018, the state of Georgia paid more than $3 million to settle a series of five prison medical negligence lawsuits against prison doctors that involved “brain injury, loss of a limb, and a prisoner’s death,” according to an article in org.
• In 2006, a 39-year-old Duval County jail inmate was finally hospitalized after entering into a persistent vegetative state after experiencing a seizure in custody, according to an article in the Pinellas Legal Examiner. The family filed a lawsuit against Correctional Medical Services (CMS), now known as Corizon, for “failing to provide timely medical care that could have prevented [the] vegetative state.”
• In September 2020, an Idaho inmate filed a medical negligence lawsuit against Corizon Health after she was denied antibiotics following dental surgery, according to a report in CBS News. The inmate, Christina Bergstrom, was informed that she would need to have her wisdom teeth removed shortly after entering the Pocatello Women’s Correctional Center in 2018. After having her wisdom teeth extracted, she was denied follow-up care and “developed a rare, rapidly spreading and potentially fatal infection.” She is seeking an unspecified amount of damages from Corizon.
If you or someone you love suffered harm due to negligent medical care in a correctional facility, you should seek legal advice from an experienced prison medical malpractice attorney at the Buckfire Law Firm. Contact us for your free case consultation today.
Is There a Time Limit to File an Inmate Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?
Every state in the U.S. has its own statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims. These time deadlines are unforgiving, so if you miss the deadline your case will be lost forever.
In addition, the time deadlines vary based upon the type of claim alleged in the lawsuit. For example, in Michigan, the statute of limitations for general negligence is three years but for medical malpractice only two years. For cases involving wrongful death, the limitation period can often be extended in some states.
Many states also have unique requirements that must be satisfied before a lawsuit can be filed. For example, some states require that the matter first be screened by a medical board. Other states required that written notice be provided within a specified period before filing suit.
If the inmate was in federal prison or correctional facility, the case may need to be filed under the Federal Tort Claim Act. This requires that Form 95 be filed prior to a lawsuit.
It is essential to contact a prison medical malpractice lawyer as soon as you suspect or become aware of a medical mistake. This is the best way to prevent the dismissal of your case.
Contact a Prison Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Lawyer
Prisoners and inmates do not lose all rights when they are sentenced to a term of imprisonment. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that inmates and prisoners have a right to adequate medical care. When this right is violated, it can give rise to a prison medical malpractice lawsuit.
Contact the Buckfire Law Firm for your free, no-risk case review. If you have a case, our attorneys will start working on it immediately. There are no legal fees unless you get a settlement.
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