Indiana Jail & Prison Malpractice Lawyer
People incarcerated in Indiana Jails and Prisons have certain constitutional rights to medical care. In the last decade, healthcare in Indiana Jails and Prisons is being performed by private for profit companies. For years, Corizon Health had the medical services (health care) contract with the Indiana Department of Corrections. Just recently, Wexford Health Sources took over the Indiana Department Corrections medical services contract.
Indiana Jails on the other hand have contracts with a number of private companies. Some of these providers include Corizon, Wexford of Indiana, Advanced Correctional Health, Beacon Health Resources (St. Joseph County Jail), Correctional Health Indiana, Inc. (Lake County Jail).
People who are in jail waiting to be bailed out, detained waiting to trial or are serving a jail or prison sentence are not free to seek their own medical care. Because of this situation, the City, County, or Sheriff's Office who runs the jail or the Indiana Department of Corrections is responsible for the medical care. The legal issue in these cases is whether the medical care is appropriate or whether the health care provider acted with deliberate indifference to a serious medical need. To be frank, jail and prison health care providers whether they are doctors, physicians assistants, nurse practitioners, or nurses are typically not trained in the ivory league. Many times when we dig deep into these health care providers background there is usually something that has driven them into correctional medicine. Most of the time, the healthcare provider is not working in the Prison because of some altruistic need to serve this underserved population.
Medical Malpractice in the Indiana Prison or Jail System
Detainees or prisoners do not lose their right to bring a medical malpractice claim because they are incarcerated. However, in order to bring a case the negligence or medical malpractice has to be gross or significant because juries just don't like prisoner lawsuits. A prison or jail malpractice claim follows the same procedure as any other Indiana medical malpractice claim. In Indiana, there are clear rules set out in IC-34-18-1. The claimant or personal representative of the prisoner or detainee's estate has to follow the dictates of the Medical Malpractice Act, if the healthcare provider is deemed a qualified healthcare provider under the Medical Malpractice Act. The procedures is as follows:
- File a Proposed Complaint before the Indiana Department of Insurance. This requirement only needs to be filed if the healthcare provider has followed certain requirements of Indiana's medical malpractice law and is considered a “qualified provider.”
- Submit the claim to a Medical Review Panel to review the claim for merit.
- Once this process is completed, then the matter can be filed in court and a lawsuit is started
Federal Law Claims – Deliberate Indifference to a Serious Medical Need
Jail Detainees and Prisoners have constitutional protections under the Fourteenth and Eighth Amendments of the Constitution when incarcerated or detained. If the facts are bad enough, it may be beneficial to pursue a constitutional claim as opposed to medical malpractice claim for two reasons: (1) the potential for punitive damages; and (2) the potential to have the defendant pay your attorney's fees.
The seminal case explaining a prisoners right to bring a claim for bad medical care in a Prison is the United States Supreme Court case of Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976). Under the constitution, a claim of inadequate medical care requires a showing of acts or omissions sufficiently harmful to evidence the deliberate indifference to a serious medical need or the unnecessary infliction of pain. A serious medical need is “one that has been diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment or one that is so obvious that even a lay person would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention.
Deliberate indifference is not medical malpractice, negligence or neglect. As a matter of fact, malpractice is a complete defense to a deliberate indifference claim. Additionally, deliberate indifference is not simply a difference of opinion between an inmate and a prison doctor or nurse regarding diagnosis and treatment. Instead, the doctor or nurse has to know the inmate has a serious medical condition, understand the consequences of not treating the condition, and still refuse to provide treatment.
For folks who have suffered from medical neglect and is still incarcerated, the inmate must complete the grievance procedure in Prison or Jail. This legal requirement is called exhaustion of administrative remedies and it is requirement under the PLRA (Prison Litigation Reform Act).
The following are some factual scenarios that may support a claim of deliberate indifference to a serious medical need:
- failing to timely treat broken bones after an injury or fight at the facility
- failing to protect an inmate with a known risk of suicide
- failing to recognize and treat signs and symptoms of withdrawal from alcohol or drugs
- failing to timely treat a hernia that ends up incarcerating or strangulating the inmate's bowel
- failing to timely treat an emergency condition because the doctor or nurse believes the inmate is lying about the condition
- failing to refer an inmate to a proper specialist for evaluation and/or treatment
- failing to follow a specialist's treatment recommendation
- discontinuing important medications because of cost
- failing to recognize and treat a severe asthma attack
- failing to recognize and treat a heart attack
If you have any questions about a potential prison or jail medical malpractice or deliberate indifference claim, contact Guy S. DiMartino at (219) 690-8997