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Inmate Died of Heat Exposure in NYC Jail: On Section 1983 Claims

According to a recent story from WTOP news, an inmate at Rikers Island New York City jail died from excessive heat while in his cell. It is being reported that the decedent, a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, had been homeless since his separation from the military and was suffering from schizophrenia.

1409592_gavel_2.jpgDecedent had been prescribed antipsychotic medication, which doctors know increases a patient’s sensitivity to heat, to treat his mental disorder. He had not been checked on for at least four hours when he was found dead in his 104-degree jail cell, which was not air-conditioned. He was lying at the foot of his bed in a pool of blood and vomit. Speaking on a condition of anonymity, a jail official said he basically baked to death.

The decedent was at Rikers Island after being arrested on misdemeanor trespassing and could not make bail, so he was being held until trial.

As our injury lawyers in Boston know, when a person is injured or killed in a state-run facility such as a prison, nursing home, or hospital, plaintiffs may be able to file a type of lawsuit in federal court known as a Section 1983 Action.

This is short for Section 1983 of 43 United States Code. This section allows a person to sue state employees acting on behalf of the state in federal court for a civil rights violation. “Civil rights” is often an ambiguous term, but it has come to include treating people in a state facility in a negligent way that results in injury or death.

When Congress created this statute, it was drafted in a way that would allow people who could not afford to hire an attorney to file a cause of action by providing that plaintiff’s attorney, upon a verdict of liability by a jury, would be awarded attorney’s fees and court costs by defendant.

However, as your attorney can explain, filing a federal lawsuit is a complex process and often requires an extensive amount of litigation. The state can defend itself by claiming that it has a legitimate interest in keeping the community safe from prisoners and that it runs the facility in the best manner possible to insure the safety and well-being of staff and other inmates.

On the other hand, it is hard to justify giving someone medication that makes them more sensitive to increased temperature and then leaving them alone in a 104-degree jail cell without even checking on them.

If a case were filed in a situation like this, it would be filed by a surviving family member of decedent in the name of decedent’s estate. Damages could include pain and suffering leading up to the time of death, lost wages, loss of consortium, and other special damages.

In the actual death discussed in this article, the jail noted that another prisoner in the same block had died a week earlier from self-inflicted wounds. The mayor has called these deaths troubling, and an investigation is being conducted.

Decedent’s family members are calling for such an investigation and a federal lawsuit has been filed.

If you are injured in an accident in Boston, call the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free and confidential appointment — 1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:

Autopsy: Inmate died from heat, meds in NYC cell, August 13, 2014, WTOP News
http://www.wtop.com/884/3700924/Autopsy-Inmate-died-from-heat-meds-in-NYC-cell
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