Buechel v. United States – Prison Negligence Results in Lawsuit

Plaintiffs who have served time in prison aren’t always the most sympathetic in a personal injury lawsuit. prison.jpg

However, prison administrators have a responsibility to ensure that those in their care are afforded basic protections with regard to their health and safety. Just because a person was sentenced to serve time does not mean they deserve to suffer ill treatment or conditions leading to illness.

This is what was alleged in the recent injury case of Buechel v. United States, which was reviewed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

A prisoner serving time in Illinois contracted a severe type of staph infection known as Methicillin-Resistant Staphyloccus aureus, or MRSA. This particular infection was resistant to antibiotics, and it nearly killed the prisoner. He did survive, but he was hospitalized for 40 days and was left with serious and severe permanent damage to both his lungs and heart.

Initially, the man’s administrative claim asserted a broad claim of negligence against the prison where he contracted the infection. However, the district court judge issued a pretrial order limiting the prisoner’s claim to one of two theories: That the prisoner had contracted the disease from a particular inmate while working with him in the prison laundry room or that, more generally, he had contracted it as a result of handling infected laundry at the prison, where sanitary procedures were sloppy.

The fellow inmate reportedly had open sores that oozed with infection, and an expert witness testifying for the plaintiff indicated that the most likely source of the infection was this other inmate, as the two had frequent hand-to-hand contact in passing tools and the like back and forth.

However, the government showed evidence that the strain of MRSA that the other inmate had differed from the one suffered by the plaintiff.

The government showed evidence that it had MRSA laundry procedures in place at the time of the inmate’s stay. Those procedures included separating biohazard laundry of infected inmates from that of healthy inmates. However, the plaintiff presented evidence that this policy was not followed.

A big problem with the plaintiff’s case here was that he relied heavily on his own testimony, and the court did not deem him to be a credible witness.

Being that the scope of the plaintiff’s claim had been significantly narrowed before the bench trial, the judge found that the plaintiff had not proven his case by a preponderance of the evidence. A judgement was entered in favor of the government.

The prisoner appealed. The appellate court did not find error with the judge’s finding that the plaintiff had failed to prove his case – as defined. However, the appellate court did rule that the lower court erred in narrowing the scope of the plaintiff’s claim. Therefore, the case was remanded back to the lower court for retrial on the broader theory of negligence, which was simply that the prison system failed to adhere to MRSA containment policies at the time when the prisoner contracted the illness.

Minimum standards for local detention facilities in South Carolina are outlined here.

Contact the South Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Buechel v. United States, March 7, 2014, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

More Blog Entries:
Non-Economic Damage Cap Deemed Unconstitutional by Another State Supreme Court, March 24, 2014, Rock Hill Personal Injury Lawyer Blog

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