What is the liability of a jail in safeguarding inmates?

by Christian
(Dallas, TX, USA)

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 as she can remember, she says she was blacked out the majority of the time). They won't release the medical records to the family and she won't be given the requisite forms to request them for herself.

After being released from the hospital she was taken to county detention where she waited about 24 hours to be booked and see infirmary staff.

The county stated that the city jail is responsible for repairing her dental work, the damage is extensive: 4 cracked teeth, 5 teeth pushed in, cuts to her gums and cheeks and she says they're starting to rot (it's been 11 days). Her teeth were perfect, previously.

County jail states all they can do is pull the teeth, but won't release her for proper dental treatment.

1. Is the city jail in any way negligent or liable and if not, why would the county state that they are?

2. Given her current condition and the fact that no MRI/CAT scan was done, does the hospital have any liability for the current state of her face/teeth, as well as her continued dizziness, confusion and severe depression (all likely consequences from a significant concussion)?

3. What is the liability of the county jail due to their lack of willingness to allow her proper dental and physical treatment for her injuries? She states some teeth are still loose and she can only eat the softest of foods due to extreme pain.

Thank you very much for any information you can provide.

Visitor Question:
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ANSWER for "What is the liability of a jail in safeguarding inmates?":

Christian (Dallas, TX, USA):

You pose 3 interesting questions...

The first "elephant in the room" question is the reason for your friend's incarceration in the first place. It's important to know if your friend was arrested for public intoxication, driving while under the influence or driving while intoxicated. You mention your friend was "blacked out". If the black out was a result of intoxication your friend's entire story loses credibility.

Although contributing to one's own injuries does not relieve the city or county of their duty to care for a prisoner, your friend's possible contribution to her injuries may relieve the city or county from liability.

The second unanswered question is the reason your friend fell from the upper bunk. You say she thinks she "may have been pushed".

As a rule people don't usually fall out of top bunks in city jails. If someone pushed your friend she would know it. Either she was pushed or she wasn't. If she was pushed, the person who pushed her may be liable for her injuries. If she wasn't pushed and just fell then unless she has some proof the bunk's wood was broken, or screws loose, etc. proving the city's liability will be difficult.

The failure to have undergone a CAT Scan (Computer Axial Tomography) examination or an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) examination can not be imputed to the city or county. Once your friend was delivered to the hospital it was up to the doctors to decide whether a MRI or CAT Scan was necessary. The city or county would not be directly liable for the actions or omissions of a the hospital's doctors (unless it was a city or county hospital).

You state "they" - the County - said the City is liable. It would be very important to know who "they" are. Just because a county detention officer or other nominal employee says the City is liable doesn't mean very much unless the person who made that statement was a designated spokesperson for the county. Even then it would just be an opinion and not legally binding.

Neither the city nor the county have a legal duty to do any cosmetic work to a prisoner's teeth. Regardless of the cause, the city and county's legal duty ends once the prisoner's injuries are stabilized.

From the facts you submit there are too many unanswered questions which must first be resolved before liability can be considered against the city or county.

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from an attorney licensed in your state. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Judge Calisi

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