Free Essay on Civil Liability

Published: 2019-02-03
Free Essay on Civil Liability
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Punishment Police
Pages: 13
Wordcount: 3575 words
30 min read

Civil Liability in A Failure To Protect Prisoners Or Detainees

In the last three decades, there has been a rapid increase in the roles and functions played by the police in law enforcement. The complexity of their jobs makes their profession more vulnerable to citizens’ litigations and lawsuits. They are expected to act as attorneys, enforce law and order, act as medical doctors, prevent crime, and act as prosecutors, social workers, and educators. It is now common today for law enforcement agencies to face lawsuits for deliberate indifference in the course of carrying out their duties (Belanger, 2016).

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Civil litigation cases have instituted the development of many policies and mechanisms, open dialogue with the litigants, enhanced and more down to earth training, practice as well as philosophy. It is only through cooperation will police agencies, and their legal experts utilize the wisdom in the written law (Cameron, 2016).

Prisoners may be disastrously wronged by the prison system, yet tort actions have demonstrated that they are a challenging kind of improvement for prisoners. Prisoners’ negligence claims usually face barriers at every analysis stage be it causation, the duty of care, breach, or standard of care. Prisoners live in a setting that is completely managed by surveillance, official discretion, perimeter architecture, disciplinary rules, and internal security. This paper will analyze Civil Liability on American correctional facilities and employees due to their failure to protect prisoners or detainees in American Prisons.

Duty of Caring for prisoners

In imposing tort liability, the jury must in the first place verify that the first respondent had a duty to care for a group of people where the plaintiff derives membership. Consequently, he had a duty to care for the plaintiff. In the context of prisons actions of negligence characteristically concentrate on duties that are owned by the law enforcing agency and its employees to the plaintiff who is the prisoner. A duty is owed where harm is the rationally anticipated outcome of the acts of the defendant, especially where there is an adequate relationship of closeness between the parties, and there is no presence of outstanding policy deliberations that contradict the act (Freer, 2016).

Prisoners are physically controlled and legally accountable to correctional systems for they depend on them for their life necessities. In the US, most cases on the failure to offer safe premises tend to go for an out-of-court settlement. Prisons are dangerous places; however, control is exercised by prison officials for it is under their jurisdiction to take measures to safeguard prisoners from each other and themselves. Courts are usually reluctant to compel a duty of care to law enforcing agencies. Another limitation stems from the fact that governments are only held accountable for operational decisions; prison correctional officers are thus immune from suits that touch on policy decisions which were made by high ranking government officers (Magun, 2016).

Medical Care in Prisons

The US Constitution Eighth Amendment states that excessive bail and fines will not be imposed, nor cruel punishment meted out. The US courts define a serious medical need as that which has been diagnosed by doctors as in need of medical attention. There are three defendants that are likely to be held liable for the medical negligence of prisoners these included contracted medical practitioners, correctional officers, and prison staff. However, prison systems must be made liable for health professionals’ torts regardless of whether they are employees or contractors (Rountree, 2016).

As much as most claims of negligence tend to assert carelessness on prison staff prison systems could be held liable if they fail to guarantee the institution of effective medical services. Effective medical services entail the supervision of medical staff, timely access to medication, the reporting of medical needs, and sufficient record keeping. A barrier to liability by prisons is fronted by the likely finding that medical practitioners are autonomous contractors and are not liable for the prison’s negligence (Rosenbloom, 2017).

A prison service will be held liable for its employee’s torts if the acts are adequately linked to their employment, in case the job provides the likely risk of tortuous conduct. This is especially so in prisons characterized by friction and altercation coupled with the prospect of tortuous conduct. There are many cases where members of staff in prisons were found to be negligent, and the correctional institution found liable. In two cases a breach of care standards was found when prison officers did not send an inmate whose condition had worsened to a physician for checking. This breach was also registered when a prisoner shot by prison officer was denied medical attention (Steinberg, 2016).

Risk from other Prisoners and the risk of self-harm

American courts clearly acknowledge the obligation of prison officers to safeguard prisoners from their fellow inmates which are the most ordinary basis for claims of negligence in litigations. However, this kind of action in most cases does not ascertain the care standards. American courts just like the British ones have a perception that violence is innate. These courts claim to apply the common tests in establishing care standards but usually conclude that common individuals would not do an enhanced job in supervising prisoners and unless a sustained assessment is done they find no breach (Weinstein, 2014).

Suicides by individuals in custody regardless of whether they are attempted or successful, by pre-trial or convicted prisoners have become a troubling and recurring problem for American prisons. An issue that has offered rise to a critical number of lawsuits against the American correctional institutions and their employees is the alleged letdown to reasonably safeguard inmates from assaulting each other. Correctional facilities are known to have many individuals that are prone to be violent. It would not be possible to curb all prison assaults on inmates. Correctional facilities together with their employees are thus not capable of ensuring that violence does not occur (Belanger, 2016).

The existing legal threshold for federal civil rights liability against employees and correctional officials in the perspective of a failure to stop prisoner to prisoner assault was instituted by the American Supreme Court in the Farmer vs. Brennan (1994) case. In this case, a transsexual inmate with feminine attributes was placed in the same cell with male inmates and at other times in the general population of the prison but under segregation in most cases. The prisoner reported that he was raped by one prisoner upon being transferred from a correctional facility to a penitentiary and placement in a general population (Cameron, 2016).

Purposeful indifference

Previous court cases Helling vs. McKinney (1993), and Wilson vs. Seiter (1990) had ruled that it should take premeditated indifference to a considerable risk of critical harm to inmates to violate the prohibition of the eighth amendment on cruel and extraordinary punishment. Farmer clearly asserts that outright indifference in a sense is founded on subjective awareness where the correctional officer is aware that an inmate faces a considerable risk of critical harm and disregards this risk through a failure to undertake logical steps to stop it (Freer, 2016).

This kind of purposeful indifference is greater than negligence but could be below omission acts for the objective of realizing harm or being aware that harm will be realized and is equal to an act of restlessness. Regarding liability, it should be categorized as subjective recklessness. In the eighth amendment, the court ruled that outlawing cruel as well as unusual punishment rather than conditions as well as the failure to remedy a critical risk that a correctional officer should have done but did not. As much as it is not to be praised it is not equal to inflicting punishment (Magun, 2016).

Deliberate indifference is in many cases what it means is exactly what it connotes. For some correctional officers to be held liable they must be in the know of a particular knowledge of a serious harm risk to an affected prisoner, yet deliberately fails to take action to stop it. This also includes cases in which a prisoner claims that correctional officers intentionally took steps to facilitate or enhance the assault. In Pinkston vs. Madry (2006), the prisoner asserted that animosity existed between the prison officer and him. He went in to claim that the officer told him within earshot of an inmate in an adjacent cell that he would unlock the doors of the cells to the two prisoners so that he fights it out with the other inmate, having been aware of the dispute existing between them (Resnik, 2010).

The officer walked away upon which the doors to the two cells opened. The two were involved in a fist fight where the plaintiff was a recipient of a punch in his face that drew blood inuring his lip. The plaintiff claimed that two officers including the litigant watched them fight from a control room. If these allegations were proven to be true, the prison officer would have incurred liability. In this case, concisely, the court ruled that the plaintiff was not able to establish that the two correctional officers failed to safeguard him from a circumstance where there was a strong projection of the occurrence of violence (Rountree, 2016).

Evidence about the locking incidence showed that this must be operated by two officers and that no evidence indicates that there was the presence of a second officer then to help in opening the doors. Consequently, the court refused to believe the plaintiff’s account. The mere fact of standing alone where a prisoner shows a desire of not being housed with particular prisoners is not adequate to inflict liability for later attacks on the prisoner after he is not moved by correctional officers (Rosenbloom, 2017).

In Lindell vs. Houser (2006), the court ruled that correctional officers and their employees did not act with intentional indifference while putting a white supremacist prisoner in two cells that had black cellmates alleged to be members of a prison gang which he had fallen out with. No liability was registered for two consecutive attacks he obtained from his cellmates upon requesting a transfer to avoid being housed with blacks for he had no right to grant such a request. Apart from that, the prisoner had been offered an option of either returning to segregation or staying with the black inmates where he chose the latter just before the first attack (Steinberg, 2016).

It was pointed out by the Appeal court that prisoners have no right of being celled by an inmate of a certain race or one with whom they get along. No evidence was found about the black inmates threatening the plaintiff before the attack or that he had reported his alleged previous disputes with the gang to the correctional officers. However, even if officers are informed of such fears, prison officers are by law not supposed to believe all profession of fear by inmates. As far as the second attack is concerned, there were about eighteen months before the previous attack, allegedly by a member of the gang. This was too remote to be a risk of immediate harm. In the first attack the prisoner wished to be moved for racial reasons without having informed any person of the dispute he had with the gang (Wistrich, 2015).

However, in Pierson vs. Hartley (2004) in spite of the absence of a particular threat to the specific attacked inmate, the court ruled that placing prisoners with re-known history of violence in an open prison setting and permeating him to stay there upon being convicted for being in possession of a weapon while under incarceration was adequate to uphold the award by a jury of damages against accountable correctional officers upon a brutal attack on another inmate by the prisoner where he broke one of the inmate’s testicles. The federal court of appeal held onto the $100, 000 jury awards in damages (Weinstein, 2014).

The intentional indifference was registered when a known violent predator was placed in an unrestricted dormitory. The Court of appeal found adequate evidence to show that the two litigants were aware that the assailant posed considerable risk to other inmates and had been pointed out as an escape and physical attack risk. He had also been convicted of possessing weapons in prison, and they had failed to segregate him even upon being convicted of the weapons. The plaintiff was not supposed to prove that the assailant posed a certain risk to him, his history was adequate to portray that he was a big threat to all inmates in the correctional facility. In action, while there was such sufficient evidence was ruled by the court as a demonstration of deliberate indifference as outlined in the eighth amendment (Belanger, 2016).

In Brown v Budz (2005), assertions by a white detainee that correction officers improperly failed to safeguard him against assaults by a black inmate re-known for attacking whites through allowing him unmonitored access to a dayroom used by him was adequate to stage federal civil rights claims. It was found by the Appeal Court that the trial court had inappropriately dismissed the plaintiff’s lawsuit. As much as the black prisoner had not brought any known threats against the white detainee the fact that it was known by everyone that he viciously attacks white detainees brought up a factual concept if the actions by the guards were indeed deliberate indifference (Cameron, 2016).

In Nei vs. Dooley (2004), the claim of intentional indifference was not founded on particular threats to certain prisoners. Instead, the court ruled that the correction officer and other prison employees were not permitted qualified immunity in a law suit by four prisoners who claimed that they portrayed deliberate indifference to attacks received by them and actions by an HIV-positive inmate who had threatened that he would infect them. He did so by urinating on the floor and placing a fecal matter on it whenever he was given the task of cleaning the rooms. Incase the correction officers were aware of the actions by the HIV-positive detainee and refused to take action the court ruled this would be deliberate indifference (Freer, 2016).

In Rangolan vs. County of Nassau (1999), the jury ruled that the plaintiff was correctly awarded $830,000 in damages against the County correction facility as a failure to safeguard him against physical assault from another inmate whom he had assisted to ensure he was imprisoned when he cooperated in an investigation on narcotics (Magun, 2016).

New York Corrections Commissioner

Liability in assault cases of prisoners could realize huge damage awards if there are serious injuries. In Britt vs. Garcia the jury ruled that the New York Corrections Commissioner as well as the deputy prison superintendant were not covered by qualified immunity in a case where the plaintiff a prisoner claimed that they connived to deny him of his civil rights when they failed to safeguard him from other prisoners’ multiple attacks. He was slashed by one prisoner on his back, head and neck. As much as he was purported to have been put in protective custody upon a return to the prison after receiving medical attention, he was yet again allegedly attacked by a different detainee. In a subsequent incident, his cell in prison was set on fire by unknown individuals. The jury awarded him $160,000 as compensatory damages and a further $7.6 million as punitive damages. However, another trial was ordered to hear issues arising from the punitive damages (Resnik, 2010).

In the context of actions that are undertaken after the occurrence of an attack, courts comprehend that officers must act quickly to manage a situation without anticipating issues that arise from every volatile situation. In Fisher vs. Love Joy (2005), the jury ruled that a prison warden who demanded that an inmate stands against the wall next to a hostile inmate who had been stabbed did not act with deliberate indifference neither was he to blame for the ensuing stabbing of the prisoner (Rountree, 2016).

In the same breath whenever prison wardens are aware of an impending attack they should not fail to do their investigations so as to claim they were not aware of any imminent attack. In Velez vs. Johnson (2005), a prison officer who failed to do his investigations after an inmate pushed the emergency button in his cell was not allowed to take the qualified immunity in the inmate’s law suit who claimed that due to his inaction his cellmate who was holding a razor to his neck went on to physically assault and anally rape him. In Odom vs. South Carolina Corrections Department the jury ruled that the alleged failure by correctional officers to remove a detainee from a place where other prisoners attempted to access and assault him was a deliberate indifference to his safety. Consequently, they did not qualify for immunity (Rosenbloom, 2017).

In Crow vs. Montgomery (2005), a federal court of appeal denied prison officers qualified immunity by asserting that they failed to safeguard a prisoner from being assaulted by other detainees, even though there was no allegation of their disregarding any risk of harm. The jury ruled that general allegations of the facility having been crowded was inadequate to show premeditated indifference and at most designated negligence, which was not a foundation for a constitutional claim. In the same breath in Purcell vs. Toombs County, the jury ruled that Georgia county jail conditions did not create a considerable risk of critical harm required to exhibit constitutional rights violation in the failure to safeguard a prisoner from attacks by other detainees who felt he had stolen money from one of them (Steinberg, 2016).

Institutions and correctional staff

Prisoners’ tort claims tend to be subjected to a lot of barriers. As a matter of fact, institutions and correctional staff tend to be held to lower care standards compared to defendants in the community. Given these conditions prisoners have minimal succeeding chances compared to external plaintiffs. Apart from that, the causation assessment has been more rigorously applied in prison tort cases which call for an intensive practical inference. In most cases, there is a tendency of Judges requesting prisoners to table unavailable evidence which mostly lies in the care of correctional services.

Courts seem to be less interested in health care founded claims where the plaintiff is a prisoner. In the real sense, Prison physicians are held to lower levels of medical care compared to physicians serving the larger community. This contradicts legislative enactments which dictate that prison health standards should be similar to those in the community. Through the application of controversial differences between contractors and subcontractors courts are essentially allowing correctional institutions to get away from vicarious liability for injuries obtained by prisoners while under the care of medical practitioners.

Claims of new duties are not received well by courts if the defendant is a government actor involved in public roles especially where duties conflict or where there are implications of resources. Consequently, general confinement conditions may not ground effective private claims as much as there is an infringement of legal provisions. The system of grievance is very bureaucratic and does not have comprehensible remedies. The standard for judicial assessment of management decisions is even much higher, and reason has substituted correctness even in cases of Charter claims.

Courts should thus have a firmer attitude in discouraging authorities from assuming relaxed approach to laws which govern the entitlements of prisoners. Governments globally will not afford the repeated cost of defending themselves against civil litigations whenever claims of prison deaths, injuries and illnesses succeed. As a matter of fact, it would be wiser to improve prison conditions rather than continue paying civil litigations.


Belanger, R. E. (2016). Judicial decision making and the exclusionary rule. Texas Review Of Law & Politics, 21(1), 69-117.

Brown v. Budz, 398 F.3d 904, 909–10 (2005)

Cameron, D. (2016). The failure of our prison system is scandalous. Vital speeches of the Day, 82(4), 118-124.

Crow v. Montgomery, 403 F.3d 598, 601–02 (2005)

Farmer v. Brennan, (92-7247), 511 U.S. 825 (1994)

Fisher v. Lovejoy, 414 F.3d 659, 664 (2005)

Freer, R. D. (2016). Exodus from and transformation of American civil litigation. Emory law journal, 65(6), 1491-1530.

Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25 (1993)

Lindell v. Houser, 442 F.3d 1033, 1036 (2006)

Magun, K. (2016). A changing landscape for pretrial detainees? the potential impact of kingsley v. hendrickson on jail-suicide litigation. Columbia Law Review, 116(8), 2059-2101.

Nei v. Dooley, 372 F.3d 1003 (2004)

Pierson v. Hartley, 391 F.3d 898 (2004)

Pinkston v. Madry, 440 F.3d 879, 889 (2006)

Rangolan v. County of Nassau, 51 F. Supp. 2d 233 (1999)

Resnik, J. (2010). Detention, the war on terror, and the federal courts. Columbia Law Review, 110(2), 579-685

Rountree, M. M. (2016). Criminals get all the rights: the sociolegal construction of different rights to die. Journal Of Criminal Law & Criminology, 105(1), 149-202.

Rosenbloom, D. H., & Rene, H. K. (2017). Shrinking Constitutional Tort Accountability: Developments in the Law and Implications for Professional Responsibility. Public Performance & Management Review, 40(2), 235-256.

Steinberg, J. K. (2016). Adversary Breakdown and Judicial Role Confusion in "Small Case" Civil Justice. Brigham Young University Law Review, 16(3), 899-969

Velez v. Johnson, 395 F.3d 732 (2005)

Wistrich, A. J., Rachlinski, J. J., & Guthrie, C. (2015). Heart Versus Head: Do Judges Follow the Law or Follow Their Feelings?. Texas Law Review, 93(4), 855-923.

Weinstein, N. M. (2014). The Legal Aspects of Conditional Release in the Criminal and Civil Court System. Behavioral Sciences & The Law, 32(5), 666-680.

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