Visitor Question

Can we sue for serious injuries to my husband in Federal Prison?

Submitted By: Kari (Cartersville, Georgia)

My husband was an inmate at a federal prison and while walking he was struck by a piece of a fire extinguisher from behind by another inmate. The injury he sustained left him in a coma and paralyzed.

His stay in the ICU resulted in his skull being fixed with plates & bolts. He has undergone physical therapy and has since regained mobility only on his left side. He was then shipped to a different prison and has continued physical therapy until he had to have emergency surgery due to the plates and bolts becoming loose.

At this point, my husband has been incarcerated since 2008. He went in healthy and came out in a wheelchair. It’s a miracle he survived this attack.

So my question is, do we have a case against the prison? Was the prison negligent in providing a safe environment if the fire extinguisher was accessible to use as a weapon? Are they responsible because the hospital failed to ensure the procedure was done correctly?  What are his options?

Thank you for taking the time to answer.

Disclaimer: Our response is not formal legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. It is generic legal information based on the very limited information provided. Do not rely upon the information in our response, or anywhere else on this site, when deciding the proper course of a legal matter. Always get a personalized case review from a local attorney.

Answer

Dear Kari,

Your question raises two issues. First, is the prison liable for the injuries your husband suffered when he was attacked by another inmate? Second, will the prison be liable for any medical negligence related to your husband’s care and treatment?

Let’s consider the prison’s liability for the attack on your husband first.

In answering your question I am assuming that the prison is operated by the federal government and staffed by federal employees, and is not being operated by a private company through a contract with the federal government.

Federal Liability for Inmate Injuries

While prison staff do have a duty to protect prisoners from being harmed by other inmates, that obligation is not absolute. As you correctly note, the question is whether the prison staff was negligent in allowing the fire extinguisher to be available to another inmate to use as a weapon.

Whether the prison staff was negligent is a question of whether they acted reasonably under the circumstances. Assuming you can establish that the prison staff unreasonably allowed inmates access to the fire extinguisher, then your husband would have a claim against the prison.

Because your husband is in a federal prison, his claim would have to be brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). The FTCA waves the qualified immunity that would otherwise protect prison staff and allows for an injured party to bring a claim.

The FTCA allows an injured party to sue because of a tort – a legal term that references such things as negligence.

The FTCA provides as follows:

“[T]he district courts . . . shall have exclusive jurisdiction of civil actions on claims against the United States, for money damages . . . for . . . personal injury or death caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government while acting within the scope of his office or employment…”

Be aware that before you can file a claim under the FTCA your husband will have to first present the claim to the appropriate federal agency and have that claim denied. Additionally, your husband would have to bring that administrative claim within two years of his injury.

The federal statute requiring that he first file an administrative claim states:

“An action shall not be instituted upon a claim against the United States for money damages for…  personal injury or death caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government while acting within the scope of his office or employment, unless the claimant shall have first presented the claim to the appropriate Federal agency and his claim shall have been finally denied by the agency…”

Once your husband’s claim is denied, he will have six months to file a lawsuit under the FTCA.

You can find out more information about prisoner rights and claims in Georgia by visiting the website for the advocacy group Human Rights Watch.

Medical Negligence After Attack?

Your question also mentions improper medical care your husband received after he was attacked. Unfortunately, your question does not provide enough information for us to give you any insight on this issue.

It is important to understand, however, that just because there may have been a problem with the medical care your husband received, that doesn’t mean that he was the victim of medical negligence.

Navigating the waters of federal court in pursuing a claim under the FTCA or pursuing a medical negligence claim is difficult. An experienced personal injury attorney would be a valuable resource to you in understanding your options for helping your husband.

Learn more here: Jail and Prison Inmate Injury Claims

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from a licensed attorney.

Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call 888-972-0892.

Best of luck with your claim,

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