Monday, December 20, 2010

Inmate cannot sue jail officials for medical violations

Inmates can sue if jail personnel do not properly handle their sickness and illnesses, but it's not easy. They have to show deliberate indifference to serious medical needs. The Supreme Court said that many years ago. We can talk all day about why it is that inmates do not have the same medical rights as the rest of us, a topic, really, for a law review article.

The case is Goris v. Breslin, a summary order decided on November 30. Boris was incarcerated at Marcy Correctional Facility. He sued over the following medical acts and omissions:

(1) Dr. Thebaud’s refusal to prescribe surgery instead of physical therapy; (2) Dr. Thebaud’s failure to more expeditiously arrange a follow-up with an orthopedist between February and July of 2004; and (3) Dr. Haider-Shah’s refusal to prescribe surgery, or refer Goris to a physical therapist or orthopedist, between August and December of 2004.

These medical decisions might support a medical malpractice action in the civilian context, but they do not show deliberate indifference to Boris's serious medical needs. The Court of Appeals (Feinberg, Parker and Wesley) notes, "Because society does not expect that prisoners will have unqualified access to health care, deliberate indifference to medical needs amounts to an Eighth Amendment violation only if those needs are serious." The Supreme Court said that in 2004. Courts also consider the actual consequences of the challenged medical decisions.

Goris may be aggrieved, but the Second Circuit concludes that his medical condition was not that serious, and he responded well to physical therapy. In addition, while it may be malpractice for a doctor to fail to refer a patient to a physical therapist over a period of five months, this "is hardly a deprivation 'sufficiently grave' to constitute an Eighth Amendment violation, especially considering that many, if not all, of the exercises that Goris would have conducted at physical therapy he was capable of doing on his own."

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