Prisons are state and federal correctional institutions for long-term sentences of over one year, whereas jails are city and county facilities housing inmates serving sentences which are generally one year or less. Jails also serve as holding areas for inmates recently sentenced and awaiting transfer to a state or federal prison.
Both prisons and jails are closely monitored every day, 24 hours per day, by guards and surveillance systems. But still, the dangerous conditions of these environments often result in prison injuries to inmates while serving their time.
Jail or Prison Injuries Commonly Suffered by Inmates
• Slip and fall accidents
• Transport vehicle accidents
• Inmate violence
• Guard assaults
• Medical malpractice
• Infections and illnesses from unsanitary conditions
• Sexual Assaults
• Inmate Suicides
Federal Tort Claims for Prison Injuries
Private citizens are able to file personal injury claims against a negligent party’s insurance company. But inmate injury claims must be filed through federal and state procedures for tort claims.
Sovereign immunity provides federal correctional institutions with protections. This sovereign immunity also covers wardens, guards and administrative workers. However, inmates are allowed a waiver of this protection in regard to inmate injuries suffered in prison, if those injuries are due to negligence.
Despite the waiver for prison negligence, individuals like guards, wardens or other employees cannot be individually sued. In most circumstances, sovereign immunity shields correctional staff from lawsuits.
How to Start a Claim for Injuries Suffered in Prison
A Standard Form 95 is the first step in a prison inmate injury claim. This form, usually available through the prison library, provides the federal government with the inmate’s notice of intent to seek damages for being injured while serving time in prison. Under the applicable statute of limitations, any inmate hurt in a federal prison or holding facility has two years to file this claim, from the date of their injury.
A prison inmate’s injury claim must be responded to by the Justice Department within six months. If the claim is accepted at face value, the inmate receives payment. If the claim is denied, the inmate has six months to hire an attorney and file a lawsuit. That six month period begins on the Justice Department’s official denial date, not the injury date.
State Tort Claim Acts
For state, city and county inmates suffering jail injuries due to negligence, the claim must be filed according to the state’s Tort Claims Act. Each state is different, in regard to its forms and associated statute of limitations.
For inmates injured in a state, city or county correctional facility, research should begin at NCSL.org, where state sovereign immunity and tort liability statutes are listed under “Issues and Research.”
Negligence in Regard to Reasonable Care
Jail and prison officials have a legal responsibility to provide reasonable care for inmates. This includes their safety and well-being. If this reasonable care is violated and an inmate is injured, that inmate is legally afforded the right to file a tort claim. Such a claim may provide compensation or damages.
Such damages often include medical bills, expenses for medicines paid out of pocket, crutches, lost wages and emotional distress, also known as pain and suffering. Inmates do not pay their own medical bills or for medications or needed equipment. Lost wages are also slight. So these amounts may only reach a few dollars per day.
The bigger issue for inmates are the expenses they may incur in the future, for medical bills, out-of-pocket charges and other post-release costs. Future lost wages, pain and suffering are also accounted for in such claims.
Success of an Inmate Personal Injury Claim
A personal injury state or federal tort claim must prove three key elements toward their case’s validity. Those three elements include:
• The prison or jail did not meet its obligation of duty of care
• How the negligent act occurred
• That the negligence caused verifiable damages and injuries to the inmate
If these three elements are not proven within the inmate’s claim of injury in prison or jail, the claim will be denied.
Actual Cases: Samples of Inmates Injured While Serving Time in Prison
Below are several examples of claims filed by inmates who suffered injury in prison or jail due to negligence:
• Dangerous working conditions. Guards failed to assign someone to clean up a greasy floor, despite inmate notifications of the risk. An inmate was injured through a slip and fall.
• Guard awareness of pending assault. Despite knowing days in advance that an assault by one inmate was going to be enacted upon another, those guards did not take action to prevent inmate injury.
• Dental neglect. The prison dentist did not provide dental care, despite an inmate’s repeated notifications of abscessed tooth pain. The inmate acquired an infection from the abscess and, as a result, lost multiple teeth as part of hospitalization.
• Sexual assault by another inmate or guard
• Inmate suicide