Hahn v. Walsh – Ensuring Adequate Medical Care in S.C. Prisons

Although the prison population tends to garner little sympathy, the fact of the matter is, many are locked up for non-violent crimes. Regardless of the transgression, inmates are entitled under the Eighth Amendment to receive adequate medical care while in custody.
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Unfortunately, our Spartanburg personal injury lawyers know that because prisoners are isolated from their families and out-of-sight from the rest of the community, they are vulnerable to care that is deficient, resulting in unnecessary suffering and, in some cases, death.

Bringing a claim in these situations requires an attorney with extensive experience. These claims are complex as it is, but when they involve a government institution and a person accused or convicted of a crime, matters are even more complicated. While private medical firms contracted with the institution may face a claim of medical malpractice, the institution itself could be held liable if it is shown prison officials treated the inmate with “deliberate indifference to serious medical needs.”

Deliberate indifference is when an official recklessly disregards a substantial risk of harm to a prisoner. This is a higher standard of proof than negligence, and it requires your attorney to prove the official knew of an excessive risk of harm and disregarded it by failing to take reasonable steps to abate it.

This was the kind of allegation made in the recent case of Hahn, et al. v. Walsh, et al., which was reviewed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

The case began when the woman in question was arrested in June 2007 for aggravated domestic violence battery. She was transported to the county jail to await further due process. According to authorities, she was angry and uncooperative during the booking process. She revealed to deputies that she was diabetic, but refused to provide information regarding the type of insulin she was prescribed. She was placed on suicide watch, and correctional officers were required to observe her every 15 minutes.

The jail contracted with an independent provider of medical and mental health services, with all medical issues referred to these staffers. The jail had a policy of not forcing medical care on inmates who resist. The independent medical provider had its own policies, which for diabetics with unknown treatment protocol included twice daily checks on blood-sugar, injections of insulin as necessary and an evening snack.

The woman ate only sporadically, and sometimes refused to allow staff to check her blood-sugar or reveal what regimen she was on. Two days later, she began exhibiting signs of severe illness. She continued to refuse treatment and food. That night, other inmates would later testify they heard a woman crying, asking for a nurse and saying she needed insulin. The corrections officers did not report this.

The next morning, medical staff indicated her condition was acute. Medical assistance was requested. Her blood sugar levels were through the roof. There was swelling on her brain. Medical officials realized she was suffering from diabetic ketoacidosis, and had been for several hours. She was transported to the hospital, where she died later that day.

The woman’s husband and son later filed a lawsuit against the sheriff’s office and medical provider, asserting medical malpractice, deliberate indifference and violations of civil rights.

The district court dismissed the claims with prejudice, meaning the plaintiffs would not be allowed to file again. The court indicated the appropriate affidavits were not attached to each claim, meaning there was insufficient evidence to support them.

The federal appellate court, in its review, did find the plaintiff’s complaints were lacking, but indicated the decision to dismiss with prejudice was erroneous, and reversed this portion of the earlier ruling. That means the plaintiffs will have another chance to file their claim, with the appropriate documentation.

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

Additional Resources:
Hahn, et al. v. Walsh, et al., Aug. 12, 2014, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

More Blog Entries:
Brouwer v. Sisters of Charity Providence: The Common Knowledge Exception to the Expert Witness Requirement in South Carolina, Aug. 15, 2014, Spartanburg Personal Injury Lawyer Blog

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