Before a discussion of injury claims can take place, it’s important to understand the difference between prison and jail. The term prison refers to state and federal correctional institutions, while jail refers to city and county facilities.
Prisons are long-term correctional institutions normally housing inmates with sentences in excess of one year, while jails house inmates with sentences of a year or less. Jails are also holding areas for recently sentenced inmates waiting for transfer to state and federal prisons.
Guards and surveillance cameras closely monitor prisons and jails alike. Even though these institutions and their inmates are monitored seven days a week, 24 hours a day, dangerous prison and jail conditions consistently result in inmate injuries.
Common inmate injuries include:
Slip and falls
Inmates aren’t immune from slip and fall injuries. Many inmates have jobs they report to daily. They include kitchen and laundry duty, indoor and outdoor maintenance, motor pool, construction, and yes, making license plates. Injuries range from cuts and bruises to serious burns, broken bones, head injuries, and more.
Transport vehicle crashes
Inmates frequently must attend court hearings, get transferred to medical facilities, move from local jails to far-off prisons, and report to work programs. Depending on the circumstances, vans, buses, cars, and even planes can transfer inmates. Inmate transfer vehicles are just as likely to have accidents as other motor vehicles.
When the transport driver’s negligence causes an accident, the inmate has a right to pursue an injury claim against the correctional institution. When a private citizen’s negligence causes his injuries, the inmate has a similar right to file a claim against that negligent driver.
One of the most common forms of state and prison inmate injuries is inmate-on-inmate assault. These kinds of assaults range from petty shoving to stabbings and death. Although technically the prison official isn’t responsible for the assault, officials can become liable for lack of supervision, non-segregation of notoriously violent inmates, and failure to anticipate an assault.
Jail and prison guard assaults
While sovereign (the government’s) immunity protects jail and prison guards for their actions and omissions, that immunity is limited. When a guard engages in an unprovoked assault on a prisoner, the court may rule the guard’s action reckless or grossly negligent. Reckless disregard for the safety and wellbeing of an inmate makes not only the prison or jail liable, but the guard as well.
In a study of irony, unlike many private citizens, most inmates have immediate access to medical care. Whether due to sickness or injury, inmates receive the medical care they need. There are occasions when doctors make mistakes and commit medical malpractice. Although sovereign immunity protects doctors as agents of the correctional institution, in certain circumstances the institution may waive its immunity and permit the inmate to file an injury claim.
Infections from unsanitary conditions
When you combine overpopulation with continual inmate transfers, it’s no wonder jail conditions lead to rampant infections. Prisoners with poor hygiene, dirty cells, poorly cleaned kitchen facilities, and improperly sterilized bed wraps are a constant source of bacteria. When officials fail to maintain the cleanliness of the institution and its facilities, infections and sickness are the usual result.
Federal Tort Claims Act
Unlike private citizens who can file an injury claim directly with a negligent party’s insurance company, inmates must file their claims using federal and state tort claim procedures. Although sovereign immunity protects federal correctional institutions, including their wardens, guards, and administrative personnel, the law allows a waiver (giving up) of that protection when it comes to prison inmate injuries caused by negligence. The waiver of sovereign immunity, though, is limited.
Outside institution walls, if the person responsible for your injuries doesn’t have insurance, you can sue him personally. In prisons and jails, you can’t sue the guard, warden, or other employee you believe caused your injuries. In all but the most severe cases of negligence, sovereign immunity will insulate correctional staff from lawsuits.
To begin your injury claim, you must file a Standard Form 95. This form serves as your notice of claim or notice of intent to seek damages from the federal government for your injuries. If you’ve been hurt while in a federal prison or holding facility, you have two years from the date of your injury to file your claim. The law calls this the statute of limitations period.
The Justice Department has six months to respond to a prison inmate’s injury claim. If it admits your claim for damages, you get paid. If it denies your claim, you have six months to hire an attorney and file a lawsuit. The six-month period begins on the day the department officially denies your claim, not from the date of your injury. The forms for your lawsuit are in the prison library.
State Tort Claim Acts
Unlike federal inmates who file their injury claims by using the Federal Tort Claims Act procedure, injured state, city, and county inmates must file their injury claims via their individual state’s Tort Claims Act. Each state has its own forms and corresponding statute of limitations period.
If you’ve suffered injuries while an inmate at a state, city, or county correctional institution, refer to your state’s individual tort claims act. To find the corresponding statute for your state go to NCSL.org. Under “Issues and Research,” you’ll find your state’s sovereign immunity and tort liability statutes.
Reasonable Care and Negligence
Prison and jail officials have a legal duty to use reasonable care in the protection of inmates’ safety and wellbeing. When officials breach (violate) their duty and that breach results in an inmate’s injuries, the inmate has a right to file a tort claim seeking compensation or damages.
Damages in normal injury claims can include medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses for medicines, crutches, etc., lost wages, and pain and suffering (emotional distress). However, inmates don’t receive medical bills, and they don’t have to pay for medications, crutches, etc. Also, lost wages due to injuries are minimal, usually amounting to only a few dollars a day.
The primary damages for an inmate are future medical bills and out-of-pocket expenses (required after release), future lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Elements of a Personal Injury Claim
To succeed in a personal injury federal or state tort claim, an inmate must prove three elements:
- The institution breached its duty of care (obligation).
- How the breach occurred (the negligent act).
- The negligence resulted in verifiable injuries (damages).
Unless you prove all three elements, your injury claim will fail.
Gathering Evidence to Prove Your Claim
Proving the above 3 elements requires evidence. Gathering evidence in a jail or prison is a bit challenging. Being creative can help you gather evidence while staying within the institution’s rules and regulations.
Photographic and video evidence
Unlike the outside world where cameras and cell phones are everywhere, correctional institutions don’t allow inmates to have personal electronic devices. But that doesn’t mean you can’t document the circumstance causing your injury.
A friendly guard may agree to photograph the scene. So might a chaplain, social worker, or counselor. If that doesn’t work, you can send a request directly to the assistant warden and/or the warden. Photographing the jail condition causing your injury is compelling evidence of negligence.
Since video surveillance is everywhere in jails and prisons, the institution’s video system may have already captured the circumstances surrounding your injury. Unfortunately, you may have a tough time obtaining copies of the video footage without an attorney issuing a subpoena.
Witnesses and witness statements
Unlike in the outside world where you can rely on friends or family members as witnesses, in jail you have to rely on other prisoners and guards. Other inmates who were aware of the danger may agree to write out their statements supporting your claim. Even if they didn’t see the injury happen, they may have known the dangerous condition existed. Better yet, they may have previously notified the guards of the danger.
Example: Dangerous working conditions
An inmate, working in the kitchen, previously notified several guards about the slippery floor. The inmate told the guards during breakfast, lunch, and dinner hours that grease and spilled food on the floor caused some inmates to slip and fall. Another inmate suggested the guards assign someone to keep mopping the floor during serving hours.
The multiple notifications to the guards, along with the failure to assign an inmate to mop the floor should go in their statements. That’s powerful evidence showing the prison employees were negligent by ignoring a dangerous condition.
Example: Guards knew about assault
Another inmate assaulted and injured you. The prison just released the other inmate from segregation, or solitary confinement. The guards had heard for days before the inmate’s release that as soon as he was back in general population he planned to attack you.
Despite all previous warnings, the guards didn’t inform you of the impending attack or take any action to stop the inmate from harming you. When the inmate returned, he followed through on his threats and attacked you, causing severe injuries.
Witness statements confirming the repeated prior notifications will support your injury claim. Make sure to ask witnesses to write down in detail what the assaultive inmate told the guards, which guards he told, and the guards’ responses. Then, have your witnesses sign and date their statements.
Written notifications, “Kites”
Previous written notification to correctional officials is very strong evidence. If you were aware of a dangerous condition in the institution and you wrote repeated notifications, commonly referred to as kites, to officials, all to no avail, those kites can serve as strong evidence the officials knew the dangerous condition existed.
Correctional institutions keep all official kites for the duration of your incarceration. If you don’t have copies of your kites, you can make an official request to the prison or jail records department.
Example: Neglected by prison dentist
You’ve suffered from an abscessed tooth for some time. Your repeated kites to the prison dentist went unanswered. Several weeks have gone by. During that time, the abscess spread inside your mouth, resulting in complications requiring unnecessary multiple extractions and hospitalization.
All of the extra dental work, hospitalization and pain you suffered was avoidable. If the dentist had answered your kites in a timely manner and provided you with adequate dental care, your damages would have been much less.
Injuries and medical care
The final piece of evidence is copies of medical records linking the correctional institution’s negligence to your injuries. While the prison or jail has a duty of reasonable care (obligation) to protect you from unnecessary injuries, you have a duty, or a burden of proof, to show the institution’s negligence caused you real, verifiable injuries.
To do that, you need copies of your medical records. The diagnosis of your injury and its cause, and your prognosis for recovery are in those records.
Example: Obtaining hospital treatment records
You were hurt when a steam ironing machine malfunctioned, blasting hot steam on your face and hands. You suffered second- and third-degree burns. An ambulance took you to the closest hospital emergency room where you were treated.
In a situation like this, you’d want to ask the treating physician to make clear in his diagnosis what caused your injuries. A physician isn’t an expert in hot ironing machines, so you can’t expect him to say how the machine malfunctioned. As long as he says in his diagnosis that a steam ironing machine caused your injuries, that’s sufficient. Be sure to get a copy of your medical chart.
Personal Injury Attorneys
It’s difficult to find a personal injury attorney to represent you if your injuries are the soft tissue kind. Soft tissue injuries include sprains, minor bruises, contusions, and cuts. It’s just not worth their time.
The difficulty posed by pretrial discovery depositions (recorded statements), and subpoenas on prison officials is cumbersome. Dealing with prison red tape, dangerous jail conditions, uncooperative officials, and client interviews in jails or prisons, which can be 50 or 100 miles away, is just too much for most attorneys. The payoff just isn’t worth it.
If your injuries are quite serious, hard injuries, including broken bones, head trauma, second- or third-degree burns, or worse, maybe you can find a personal injury lawyer to help you. To do that, you need to provide him with convincing evidence of negligence.
Make sure you have copies of photographs, witness statements, kites, etc. Mail them to the attorney’s office with a detailed explanation of what happened and how your evidence supports the elements of an injury claim. Hopefully you’ll find an attorney to take your case.
Inmates Injured in Auto Accident
A prisoner transport van gets into an accident and the inmates inside are injured. Goverment claims like this one have some unique characteristics. We address some of the relevant legal issues in this case example.
How Much is Your Injury Claim Worth?
Find out now with a FREE case review from an attorney…
Visitor Questions on Injuries in Other Locations
Search for a Previously Answered Question
My son slipped and fell on a laundry bag while in a county jail. He was knocked unconscious and received several stitches on the back of his head. He received a CT scan of his head/brain & cervical spine, which was negative; however, after more than 6 weeks, his neck is still sore & he... Read More >>
I complained for months (through complaints forms, verbally to numerous staff members, and through documented clinic visits) that my muscles were locking up and resulting in me falling constantly and not being able to walk right. I was constantly being ignored and/or being told by medical staff that nothing is wrong and/or I will eventually... Read More >>
An inmate (relative) died while in prison. No written notification, death certificate, autopsy report, or cause of death was provided to the next of kin. It’s been 11 months since the death and all of this information is difficult to obtain. What is the facility required to do and what recourse does the family have... Read More >>
I was arrested for burglary, having Rx meds not in container, and misdemeanor criminal trespass. This all happened while in a PTSD flashback (I am a former soldier). The residence I entered was my childhood home 35 years ago. While in county jail (federally funded) I was denied all of the medication that was properly... Read More >>
I suffer from minor epilepsy. I take gabapentin to control it. I informed the admissions staff right when I was locked up that this was an issue for me, yet I was placed in a lower scored medical facility than I needed. The medical department was not open 24/7. About 1 1/2 years into my... Read More >>
My husband is mentally ill and incarcerated. He is in a new CCA facility (Corrections Corporation of America); his prescribed medications are either being given to him in an infrequent manner or not at all. DOC officials have been notified and stated they did not have jurisdiction over CCA, however, CCA is required by law... Read More >>
While incarcerated in a federal prison camp I was diagnosed with a fast growing type of breast cancer. I was treated by a community doctor who stated in my medical records that because it took so long to start treatment I would have to have a mastectomy. I filed a tort claim and was denied.... Read More >>
My husband was sentenced on Thursday December 28 2015, and has not been moved to a unit/block with other sentenced inmates. He is at a jail in Frederick county Maryland. He has an 18 month sentence with 6 months already served. On Sunday when it was his time to use the phone, another inmate confronted... Read More >>
I was in jail for 11 days and was kicking a 2 year heavy heroin habit. I was unable to get more than 2 kites (letter/message) while in there. I was freezing with a fever and throwing up until I had nothing left, but my body kept trying and unable to hold my bowels. I... Read More >>
While I was incarcerated in a Monroe County FL jail, I had an ear infection that the guards completely ignored, even though I complained about the pain and asked to be brought to the ER. I was told that since I was still breathing it must be okay. The following day my eardrum burst, blood... Read More >>
My husband has been in jail nine months. During this time he has not been given his correct medicines or none at all. He is diabetic, had open heart surgery and urinary dysfunction, and needs a tube to pee which isn’t given to him until several hours later. They had to take him to the... Read More >>
My son has been in juvenile hall for about four and a half months. From day one there has been a guard that does not like him and for no particular reason. She is always yelling at him and giving him a hard time. Three weeks ago he was minding his own business, playing bingo... Read More >>
My husband James is incarcerated at Purgatory Correctional Facility in St. George Utah, but was moved to Davis county jail (he is a federal inmate being housed at a county facility pending trial), where he had a heart attack because they did not give him his medication. James has been taking plavix, a heart medicine/blood... Read More >>
Two inmates were involved in a fist fight during breakfast, when my son was inadvertently hit by a taser. The officer discharged the taser, but the probes missed and struck my son in the head, about two inches from his right temple area, and in his right abdomen. He had a seizure and officers secured... Read More >>
While being held in a county jail before indictment, I was attacked while in my cell. I was stabbed multiple times in the head, in the face, side of head, and on the spine in the back of my head. I do not know what to do, and cannot afford to visit any medical institution.... Read More >>
My husband is being held in a county jail by his parole officer for a parole violation. He has been in there now for 8 days with no word of when he goes before a judge. My husband takes several medications from when he had a traumatic work accident, including severe head trauma. He has... Read More >>
My son has been incarcerated in a County Detention Center in Texas for about a year. The medical staff there is very rude and uncooperative. He’s had chronic headaches his whole life. You have to have money in your commissary to purchase ibuprofen, and he usually has enough. The problem is, the staff is very... Read More >>
My boyfriend is currently in Monroe County Correctional Facility in NY. He has been diagnosed by his primary care doctor AND a mental health professional with having bi-polar disorder AND severe depression/anxiety. He was taking medications prior to his arrest and is now being refused the treatment. His lawyer won’t do anything about it and... Read More >>
I got attacked while waiting in a line in an Auburn Correctional facility. I am currently a prisoner there. The Correctional officer was not there, where, by law, he was supposed to be to prevent things like his. I received an inch and a half cut through my left eyebrow up onto my forehead. Do... Read More >>
My son slipped and fell in one of the county jails in southern California. He was walking across the dorm and there was a puddle of water without a caution sign. When he fell, he hit his head on a metal table which knocked him out. He was taken to an outside local hospital where... Read More >>
My husband is currently serving time in OH in a federal prison. He is due to be released in the upcoming months. In early 2013 he hurt his hand while still being held in a county jail in NY. Although he was seen by a doctor there numerous times, they never gave his hand the... Read More >>
I’m submitting a question on behalf of an inmate who is currently being held at Maricopa County Jail in Phoenix, AZ. A couple of days ago, when he was taken into custody, the jail infirmary attempted to treat his high blood pressure. He reports that they “overdosed” him with at least 3 pills and he... Read More >>
A slip and fall occurred when an inmate was directed to take another hallway that had just been mopped, but no sign was placed there. He slipped and fell, and was sent to the nurse and never taken to the hospital. He had serious injuries like an extremely cold left arm, and severe neck and... Read More >>
My husband was working for wild land fire crew while incarcerated in AZ. On the way back to Florence on Hwy 79 he was involved in a roll over accident. There are many aspects involved in this case… *He was injured through no fault of his own. *He has not received standard medical care since... Read More >>
A woman started punching me multiple times and messed up my face real good. I don’t hit women so I punched her boyfriend because he wasn’t stopping her. The police took me to jail without bringing me and my busted hand to the hospital. I went straight to detox. The police didn’t bring me to... Read More >>
I was held for 10 hours in jail, and though I asked for a phone call immediately it was denied for 8 hours. I take an anti-depressant with a dosage that must be strictly adhered to. I had the medication with me and informed officials immediately about my need for the medication. Initially, when I... Read More >>
My arm was broken while I was in jail. Now that I’ve been released I can’t work because I still have a cast on. I’ll also need surgery on the arm. I was not convicted of any crime at the time the injury happened, just being held. If I was attacked or slipped and fell... Read More >>
My friend was incarcerated at a city jail. The first evening she was there, while I was waiting for visitation actually, she fell (says she may have been pushed) from the top bunk and fell directly on her face. She was taken from there to the hospital where they only x-rayed her head (as far... Read More >>
The other day my son got in a fight with his friend after drinking in a bar. My son, we’ll call him “Jon”, tried to go home before it broke out knowing that his “friend” has an anger issue and saw it coming. Well, his “friend” didn’t want him to leave so he ran after... Read More >>
My son is an inmate at the Utah State Prison. He was working with The Wild Horses Program and while at work on Feb 15, 2012 he was bucked off one of the horses and broke his arm. They have still not gotten him to the hospital to have it put in a cast. They... Read More >>
My 14 year old daughter broke her ankle playing basketball. She was at a non-secure detention center for juveniles in New York state when the injury occurred. She was playing in front of the building where a hoop was set up in the driveway. There was a staff member outside with them. The staff member... Read More >>
I was injured in a Los Angeles county penal facility when I was incarcerated for a bench warrant. The day I was arrested I was injured by a very heavy laundry cart with metal wheels being pushed over my foot in an accident caused by one of the sheriffs on duty. She was just not... Read More >>
My son was playing football in the yard at the prison he was being held in. While running, his leg fell in a hole and he felt his leg pop. He wound up having surgery while in prison, and doctors had to put a rod from his hip down to his knee. They also had... Read More >>
I was a trustee, working in the kitchen of the county jail. There weren’t enough slip resistant boots in my size so I was told to work in my shoes. Water was sprayed on the floor to slide trays in stacks of 25 to the back to be washed. I slipped on the water causing... Read More >>
My husband injured his knee in jail while playing basketball. First of all, he was given cheap treadless sneakers to wear while in there. I brought his good sneakers but they were rejected for not being brand new. After that, I had to wait until the following week to bring another package. After being in... Read More >>
While incarcerated, I was working in the sign making department. An independently owned garbage truck backed into the building as I was loading the garbage(part of my job), the hydraulic hose burst covering me with hot fluid. It burned my face and filled my eyes. They took me to a hospital a day later to... Read More >>
About 3 months ago I was arrested on an erroneous bench warrant. I was found not guilty but during my stay at the prison facility I fell from a top bunk assignment when I had a bottom bunk pass. The prison was and is still overcrowded which is why I was given a top bunk... Read More >>