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The Reality of Wrongful Death and Medical Negligence in Prisons

Lawyer looking over Medical Negligence page with client

When prisoners are denied access to proper medical care, it can lead to devastating outcomes. Wrongful deaths in prison are often a consequence of untreated medical conditions, lack of timely intervention, or inadequate healthcare infrastructure. Every life lost is a tragedy, and every individual deserves the right to receive necessary medical attention, regardless of their circumstances.

The failure to provide adequate medical care in prison may constitute negligence or deliberate indifference, violating the rights of the incarcerated individuals. Legal actions can be pursued against those responsible for these oversights, including prison staff, healthcare providers, and even governmental entities.

Inmates face unique challenges when it comes to accessing medical care. Limited resources, overcrowded facilities, and bureaucratic hurdles can hinder the timely provision of healthcare services. In some cases, prisoners may be hesitant to report medical issues due to fear of retaliation, adding another layer of complexity to the problem.

Inmate Medical Care Statistics

People in prisons and jails face a disproportionate likelihood of grappling with chronic health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, HIV, substance use, and mental health issues. Despite these challenges, the quality of correctional healthcare tends to be subpar, and access remains a significant hurdle.

The US Bureau of Justice Statistics shared that an estimated 44% of state inmates and 39% of federal inmates reported a current medical problem other than a cold or virus. Almost 87% of the 65,027 state prisoners and 89% of the 7,125 federal prisoners who died in custody from 2001 to 2019 died of illness. Among inmates who reported a medical problem, 70% of state and 76% of federal inmates reported seeing a medical professional because of the problem.

It’s important to recognize that rates of undiagnosed conditions and disease among incarcerated people may be higher due to inadequate screening before and during prison. In addition, people in prison are burdened by having to request medical appointments through correctional staff, and having to pay unaffordable fees (“co-pays”) for care.

Between 2020-2021, Florida had 539 inmate deaths according to the Florida Department of Corrections, with 474 attributed to natural causes, sometimes masking potential medical negligence.

While natural deaths may absolve prison facilities from responsibility, unnatural deaths, including those due to medical malpractice or violence, may be actionable. The prison administration, medical contractors, or correctional officers may be held accountable for deaths caused by homicide or accidents, given their responsibility for inmate well-being . In cases of medical-related negligence, seeking wrongful death damages from healthcare providers becomes a potential avenue for justice.

What is a Wrongful Death Claim?

A wrongful death claim is a legal action pursued when an individual's death is caused by the negligence, wrongful act, or misconduct of another party. In the context of prisons, medical negligence leading to a wrongful death involves situations where inadequate or improper healthcare directly contributes to the loss of life. Such claims aim to hold responsible parties accountable and seek compensation for the surviving family members.

Eligible survivors typically include immediate family members, such as spouses, children, or parents. However, eligibility criteria may vary by jurisdiction, and it's essential to consult with an attorney who specializes in wrongful death cases within the prison system.

Process of Filing a Wrongful Death Claim After Medical Negligence in Prison

  • Consultation with Legal Counsel: Begin the process by seeking a consultation with an attorney experienced in wrongful death and medical negligence cases. An experienced lawyer can assess the merits of the case, advise on jurisdiction-specific requirements, and guide you through the legal complexities.

  • Investigation and Gathering Evidence: Building a strong case involves collecting evidence of medical negligence. This may include medical records, witness testimonies, expert opinions, and any relevant documentation that supports the claim.

  • Notifying the Responsible Parties: In many cases, the prison administration, healthcare providers, or other entities may be held responsible for medical negligence leading to wrongful death. Notification of the intent to file a claim is a necessary step in initiating the legal process.

  • Filing the Wrongful Death Claim: With the guidance of an attorney, the formal filing of the wrongful death claim is the next step. This involves submitting the necessary documentation to the appropriate court, specifying the details of the case and the damages sought.

  • Negotiation or Litigation: Following the filing, parties involved may engage in negotiation to reach a settlement. If an agreement cannot be reached, the case may proceed to litigation, where a court will evaluate the evidence and determine the outcome.

The Fight Against Medical Negligence and Deliberate Indifference to Inmates’ Rights in Florida Prisons

We should all advocate for the proper and humane treatment of inmates to prevent more lost lives due to medical negligence in Florida prisons.

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