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Can You Sue for Injuries in Jail or Prison?

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

If you're injured while incarcerated in prison or jail, can you still sue for your injuries?

There are remedies in both state and federal courts for injuries incurred by inmates, but depending on the cause of the injury, you may be confined to certain legal avenues.

Consider the following ways in which an inmate can sue for injuries in jail or prison:

Section 1983 Lawsuits

Under Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act, civilians (even inmates) can sue for injuries or harm caused to them by state or local government agents. Since these suits are often used to recover for injuries from police brutality, it isn't hard to see how they could be used to impose liability on state prisons and local jails for injuries while in custody.

Most injury claims while in jail or prison fall under violations of an inmate's Eighth Amendment right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment. However, if you were injured as the result of an unreasonable search, seizure, or detention, you may also be able to recover based on a Fourth Amendment theory.

You may sue under Section 1983 in either state or federal court, but it can only be used for injuries caused by state and local government -- not by the federal government or by private parties.

Bivens Actions

If you were injured while in a federal prison or detention facility, you may have the right to recover under a Bivens action. These lawsuits are very similar to Section 1983 suits in that they require a violation of either constitutional rights or federal law in causing your injuries. Unfortunately, a 2012 Supreme Court ruling clarified that this right to sue only applies to federal government entities and their employees -- not private prisons and their employees.

State Tort Claims

If Section 1983 and Bivens claims are unavailable, you can try to sue for compensation for prison or jail injuries under state tort law. Theories of negligence and battery can work equally as well against private prison companies as they do against other private businesses, and your attorney can help you decide which parties can be held liable for your injuries.

However, note that in any case involving public officials as the cause of your injury, you will also have to overcome qualified immunity. Simple negligence on the part of a government prison official may not be enough to make him or her liable for your injuries.

Suits for injuries in jail and prison are complicated, so make sure to have a personal injury attorney evaluate your case.

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