Personal Injury: Prison Liability for Inmate Attacks

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 Can the Government be Held Liable for Personal Injuries to a Prison Inmate as a Result of Other Inmates?

In short, yes, the government can be held liable for personal injuries to a prison inmate as a result of other inmates. The Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”) allows federal prisoners to sue the government for personal injuries resulting from other inmates. At the state level, several state governments have adopted some sort of variation of the FTCA in order to allow state prisoners to sue for any personal injuries as well.

The FTCA serves to bypass government immunity. Governmental immunity is what stops individuals from suing the government, and government employees and officials in many cases. An example of this would be that you may not sue the state legislature for money if they pass a law that happens to harm you. Government immunity will stop any lawsuit in which a judgment in favor of the plaintiff could control the actions of the state, or subject it to liability. Bypassing governmental immunity allows courts to apply the reasonable care standard which is common in many personal injury claims.

All prisoners in the United States have a right to safe and humane conditions, as well as treatment. Injury incidents in prison settings could include slip and fall incidents from improper facility care, as well as violent physical attacks, at the hands of staff and/or other inmates.

What Is the Reasonable Care Standard for Prisons?

Generally speaking, most courts require that prisons use the judgment of an “ordinary and prudent person” when enforcing and maintaining the safety of inmates.  It is important to note that many state statutes explain this reasonable care standard in more detail. As such, you should research your own state’s statutes regarding the matter. Additionally, any violation of a prisoner’s civil rights under 42 USCA § 1983 is understood as a violation of reasonable care.

Some recurring actors that appear in various states’ reasonable care statutes include:

  • The prison official(s) had knowledge of an anticipated danger to inmate, which is required in almost all states;
  • Previous similar incidents of inmate attacks which could serve to warn prison officials;
  • The prison official’s relative control over attacking inmate’s actions, meaning, the prison official has a duty to intervene and control an inmates actions when they are attacking another inmate;
  • The location of attack (for example, the incident occurred in the inmate’s cell versus common gathering areas); and/or
  • The duration of attack before prison official intervention.

What Are the Steps to Take if You’ve Been Attacked by Another Inmate?

As previously mentioned, inmates have rights, including the right to be treated humanely. Such rights are protected by the Eighth Amendment. If you believe that your rights as an inmate have been violated in any way, whether by an officer or a fellow inmate, you file a grievance with the ACLU. Additionally, you should appeal the grievance through all available levels of appeal. It is imperative to note that there are generally strict time limits which govern when you may file a grievance. Because of this, you should file the grievance as soon as possible.

If you believe you are immediately in danger of being attacked by another inmate, you should report to a staff member that you trust. This could be a mental health worker or a teacher. You may even consult with a skilled and knowledgeable jail injury lawyer. The lawyer can help you understand your rights as an inmate, and provide you with legal advice moving forward to ensure the best outcome possible.

In order to successfully prove personal injury, you will need to prove the following elements:

  • The correctional facility breached its duty of care to you in some way;
  • The facility knew or should have known that the inmate could be injured; and/or
  • The facility was negligent, which resulted in the inmates’ injury.

Some examples of evidence which would support your claim could include:

  • Photographic or video evidence;
  • Witness statements;
  • Previous written requests for assistance from other authorities; and
  • Medical records.

How Can an Attorney Help Me?

There are many benefits to working with a personal injury lawyer for prisoners. The attorney can help an inmate understand that they do still have rights, and what those rights are. Additionally, the attorney can inform the inmate of what types of evidence they should be collecting in order to make a claim against the prison, if they are found to be liable for inmate attacks.

If you are a federal or state inmate, and you have been injured by another inmate, you should immediately consult with a skilled and knowledgeable personal injury attorney. An experienced personal injury attorney can help you determine whether you have a claim against the prison, and will represent you in court as needed throughout the process. The attorney will also help determine what your specific state’s reasonable care standards for prisons are, as well as any civil rights violations involved with your injury.



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