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If I Get Sick in Prison, Can I Sue?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

Let's face it, prisons aren't exactly sterile environments. And some states (e.g. California) are just regaining control of health care in correctional facilities after federal authorities had to take over because of allegations of substandard care.

Therefore, getting sick in prison is a distinct possibility, especially if you have a previous condition like diabetes or heart disease. So if you get sick in prison, or if your condition worsens due to prison conditions, can you sue for damages?

Finding the Right Claim

Filing a lawsuit for injuries in jail or prison can be tricky. There are several options, depending on the circumstances, and each has its own legal hurdles and pitfalls:

  • Cruel and Unusual Punishment: A suit for violating the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment is possible, and the inmate would need to prove (1) prison employees knew about the dangerous or risky condition, (2) failed to remedy the condition, and (3) the inmate's fundamental rights were therefore violated. (These are generally made under Section 1983 of the U.S. Code and the Prison Litigation Reform Act.)
  • CRIPA Complaint: the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) provides a way for federal inmates to reports complaints of rights violations or abuse directly to the Department of Justice, however CRIPA complaints are limited to prison-wide or systemic issues rather than individual issues.
  • Bivens Actions: Like Section 1983 claims, so-called Bivens actions are based on a violation of constitutional rights or of federal law.
  • State Tort Claims: If all of the above are unavailable, an inmate may be able to sue under standard theories of negligence; however, many public officials have qualified immunity, which shields them from civil liability.

Finding the Right Defendant

As all of the above claims are particular to certain scenarios, they are also limited to specific defendants. For example, Bivens actions can only be brought against federal prisons and employees, while CRIPA complaints only apply to state-run institutions. And Section 1983 lawsuits can only be filed against state and local governments, not against the federal government or private prison companies.

As you can see, suing for getting sick in prison can be incredibly complicated. If you've gotten sick in prison, you may want to contact an experienced injury attorney to discuss whether you have a claim.

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