Let a Florida Inmate Death Lawyer Uncover if Your Loved One Died from Medical Neglect
For more than a decade, The Law Firm of Lauer and Currie, P.A. has been dedicated to fighting for inmates’ medical needs. Greg Lauer and Christina Currie are some of the few Florida lawyers who are considered experts and we specialize in inmate wrongful death cases. We are willing and able to take on prison and jail officials and the multi-billion dollar private inmate healthcare corporations that contract with local governments to provide health care in jails and prisons. We are experts at vigorously representing the families of inmates who have died because of medical neglect. Because we have focused on inmate healthcare for so long, your Florida inmate death lawyer from Lauer and Currie will know how to develop and litigate these complex cases. Our dedicated focus to this niche area of the law has allowed our attorneys to obtain many million dollar verdicts and settlements for our clients.
What is Deliberate Indifference Towards Prisoners?
A prison official demonstrates “deliberate indifference” if he or she recklessly disregards a substantial risk of harm to the prisoner.4 This is a higher standard than negligence, and requires that the official knows of and disregards an excessive risk of harm to the prisoner.5 The prison official does not, however, need to know of a specific risk from a specific source.6
Proof of prison officials’ knowledge of a substantial risk to a prisoner’s health can be proven by circumstantial evidence. For example, it may be inferred from “the very fact that the risk was obvious.”7 This circumstantial proof may be shown by deterioration in prisoners’ health, such as obvious conditions like sharp weight loss. A prison official cannot “escape liability if the evidence showed that he merely refused to verify underlying facts that he strongly suspected to be true, or declined to confirm inferences of risk that he strongly suspected to exist.”8
Officials’ knowledge can also be proven by direct evidence. For example, prisoners might present sick call requests, medical records, complaints, formal grievances or other records reflecting: the nature of the complaint, the date of the complaint, the individuals to whom the complaint was made, the treatment provided, the adequacy of the treatment, the date the treatment was provided, the medical staff seen, the nature of follow-up care ordered and whether it was carried out, the effects of any delay in obtaining treatment, and any additional information relating to the complaint.
Our Florida Inmate Death Attorney Explains “Serious Medical Need”
The Eighth Amendment prohibits the “unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.”9 Some factors courts have considered in determining whether a “serious medical need” is at issue are “(1) whether a reasonable doctor or patient would perceive the medical need in question as important and worthy of comment or treatment; (2) whether the medical condition significantly affects daily activities; and (3) the existence of chronic and substantial pain.”10 Additionally, courts will be likely to find a “serious medical need” if a condition “has been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment or … is so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity of a doctor’s attention.”11
A serious medical need is present whenever the failure to treat a prisoner’s condition could result in further significant injury or the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.”12 Significant injury, pain or loss of function can constitute “serious medical needs” even if they are not life-threatening.13 Pain can constitute a “serious medical need” even if the failure to treat it does not make the condition worse.14 At least one court has held that pregnancy, at least in its later stages, constitutes a serious medical need.15
Elements of an Adequate Medical Care System for Inmates
The Eighth Amendment requires that prison officials provide a system of ready access to adequate medical care. Prison officials show deliberate indifference to serious medical needs if prisoners are unable to make their medical problems known to the medical staff or if the staff is not competent to examine the prisoners, diagnose illnesses, and then treat or refer the patient.16 The prison must also provide an adequate system for responding to emergencies. If outside facilities are too remote or too inaccessible to handle emergencies promptly and adequately, then the prison must provide adequate facilities and staff to handle emergencies within the prison.17 A mere difference of medical judgment is not actionable.18 But the decisions of prison doctors are not per se unassailable.19 In general, the prisoner must be able to show that the actions of medical staff could not be supported by legitimate medical judgment.
Some examples of actionable harm from inadequate medical care include:
- Serious denials or delay in access to medical personnel.20
- A denial of access to appropriately qualified health care personnel.21
- A failure to inquire into facts necessary to make a professional judgment.22
- A failure to carry out medical orders.23
- Reliance on non-medical factors in making treatment decisions.24
- Judgment so egregiously bad that it really isn’t medical.25
- Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103 (1976).
- West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 57-58 (1988); Richardson v. McKnight, 521 U.S. 399 (1997).
- Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104.
- Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 836 (1994).
- Id. at 837.
- Id. at 843; Bradley v. Puckett¸ 157 F.3d 1022, 1025 (5th Cir. 1998).
- Farmer, 511 U.S. at 842.
- Id. at 843 n.8.
- Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. at 104.
- Brock v. Wright, 315 F.3d 158, 162 (2nd Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks omitted).
- Hill v. DeKalb Reg’l Youth Detention Ctr., 40 F.3d 1176, 1187 (11th Cir. 1994) (internal quotation marks, citation omitted).
- Clement v. Gomez, 298 F.3d 898, 904 (9th Cir. 2002).
- See Greeno v. Daley, 414 F.3d 645, 653 (7th Cir. 2005) (severe heartburn with frequent vomiting); Brock v. Wright, 315 F.3d 158, 163-64 (2nd Cir. 2003) (painful keloids); Clement v. Gomez, 298 F.3d 898 (9th Cir. 2002) (effects of pepper spray on bystanders); Ellis v. Butler, 890 F.2d 1001, 1003 (8th Cir. 1989) (swollen,painful knee); Pulliam v. Shelby County, 902 F. Supp. 797, 801-02 (W.D. Tenn. 1995) (denial of dilantin prescribed for seizure disorder); Chaney v. City of Chicago, 901 F.Supp. 266, 270 (N.D. Ill. 1995) (postsurgical care of foot); Bouchard v. Magnusson, 715 F.Supp. 1146, 1148 (D. Me. 1989) (persistent back pain); Smallwood v. Renfro, 708 F. Supp. 182, 187 (N.D. Ill. 1989) (cut lip); Henderson v. Harris, 672 F.Supp. 1054, 1059 (N.D. Ill. 1987) (hemorrhoids); Case v. Bixler, 518 F.Supp. 1277, 1280 (S.D. Ohio 1981) (boil).
- See Boretti v. Wiscomb, 930 F.2d 1150, 1154 (6th Cir. 1991) (denial of dressing and pain medication for wound); Ellis v. Butler, 890 F.2d 1001, 1003 (8th Cir. 1989) (nurse’s failure to deliver pain medication); Washington v. Dugger, 860 F.2d 1018, 1021 (11th Cir. 1988) (denial of treatments that could “eliminate pain and suffering at least temporarily”); H.C. v. Jarrard, 786 F.2d 1080, 1083, 1086 (11th Cir. 1986) (denial of medical care for injured shoulder was unconstitutional, although no permanent injury resulted); Lavender v. Lampert, 242 F.Supp.2d 821 (D. Or. 2002) (failure to provide pain medication for partial spastic paralysis of the foot).
- Doe v. Gustavus, 294 F.Supp.2d 1003, 1008 (E.D.Wis. 2003).
- Such referrals may be to other physicians within the prison, or to physicians or facilities outside the prison if reasonably speedy access exists.
- Hoptowit v. Ray, 682 F.2d 1237, 1252-53 (9th Cir. 1982).
- Stewart v. Murphy, 174 F.3d 530, 535 (5th Cir. 1999). 19 See, e.g., Greeno v. Daley, 414 F.3d 645 (7th Cir. 2005) (“a prisoner is not required to show that he was literally ignored”); Hunt v. Uphoff, 199 F.3d 1220, 1223-24 (10th Cir. 1999) (one doctor denied insulin prescribed by another doctor); Miller v. Schoenen, 75 F.3d 1305 (8th Cir. 1996) (recommendations from outside hospitals not followed).
- Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. at 104; Weyant v. Okst, 101 F.3d 845, 856-57 (2nd Cir. 1996) (delay of hours in getting medical attention for diabetic in insulin shock); Natale v. Camden County Correctional Facility, 318 F.3d 575 (3rd Cir. 2003) (delay of 21 hours in providing insulin to diabetic); Wallin v. Norman, 317 F.3d 558 (6th Cir. 2003) (delay of one week in treating urinary tract infection, and one day in treating leg injury); Murphy v. Walker, 51 F.3d 714, 719 (7th Cir. 1995) (two-month delay in getting prisoner with head injury to a doctor).
- LeMarbe v. Wisneski, 266 F.3d 429 (6th Cir. 2001), cert. denied, 535 U.S. 1056 (2002) (failure of surgeon to send patient to a specialist); Mandel v. Doe, 888 F.2d 783, 789-90 (11th Cir. 1989) (physician’s assistant failed to diagnose broken hip, refused to order x-ray, and prevented prisoner from seeing a doctor); Washington v. Dugger, 860 F.2d 1018, 1021 (11th Cir. 1988) (failure to return prisoner to VA hospital for treatment of Agent Orange exposure); Toussaint v. McCarthy, 801 F.2d 1080, 1112 (9th Cir. 1986) (rendering of medical services by unqualified personnel is deliberate indifference).
- Liscio v. Warren, 901 F.2d 274, 276-77 (2nd Cir. 1990) (physician failed to inquire into the cause of arrestee’s delirium and thus failed to diagnose alcohol withdrawal); Miltier v. Beorn, 896 F.2d 848, 853 (4 Cir. 1990) (doctor failed to perform tests for cardiac disease in patient with symptoms that called for them); Inmates of Occoquan v. Barry, 717 F. Supp. 854, 867-68 (D.D.C. 1989) (failure to perform adequate health screening on intake).
- Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. at 105 (“intentionally interfering with treatment once prescribed”); Lawson v. Dallas County, 286 F.3d 257 (5th Cir. 2002) (failure to follow medical orders for care of paraplegic prisoner); Walker v. Benjamin, 293 F.3d 1030 (7th Cir. 2002) (refusal to provide prescribed pain medication); Koehl v. Dalsheim, 85 F.3d 86, 88 (2nd Cir. 1996) (denial of prescription eyeglasses); Erickson v. Holloway, 77 F.3d 1078, 1080 (8th Cir. 1996) (officer’s refusal of emergency room doctor’s request to admit the prisoner and take x-rays); Boretti v. Wiscomb, 930 F.2d 1150, 1156 (6th Cir. 1991) (nurse’s failure to perform prescribed dressing changes).
- Boswell v. Sherburne County, 849 F.2d 1117, 1123 (8th Cir. 1988) (budgetary restrictions); Jones v. Johnson, 781 F.2d 769, 771 (9th Cir. 1986) (same); Ancata v. Prison Health Services, Inc., 769 F.2d 700, 704-05 (11th Cir. 1985) (refusal to provide specialty consultations without a court order); Wilson v. VanNatta, 291 F.Supp.2d 811, 816 (N.D. Ind. 2003) (cost).
- Greeno v. Daley, 414 F.3d 645, 654 (7th Cir. 2005) (treatment “so blatantly inappropriate as to evidence intentional mistreatment likely to seriously aggravate [plaintiff’s] condition”); id. at 655 (“doggedly persist[ing] in a course of treatment known to be ineffective”); Adams v. Poag, 61 F.3d 1537, 1543-44 (11th Cir. 1995) (medical treatment that is “so grossly incompetent, inadequate, or excessive as to shock the conscience” constitutes deliberate indifference); Hughes v. Joliet Correctional Ctr., 931 F.2d 425, 428 (7th Cir. 1991) (evidence that medical staff treated the plaintiff “not as a patient, but as a nuisance”).