Civil Rights: Medical Malpractice Involving State or Federal Prisoners

Prisoners and pre-trial detainees face special problem in recovering damages due to medical malpractice against the government.  Our attorneys can help individuals or their families bring a lawsuit for damages as a result of wrongful death, the denial of medical care or other cases of serious medical malpractice.

Medical Malpractice Involving State Prisoners

Section 1983 allows state prisoners to bring actions for inadequate medical care against government employees or contractors.  The standard for these lawsuits is that there must be deliberate indifference which is a higher standard than negligence.  The employee or contractor must have knowledge the inmate faces a substantial risk of serious harm and disregards that risk.

Medical Malpractice involving Federal Prisoners and Individuals in Military Hospitals

The Federal Tort Claims Act

The United States States normally cannot be sued for monetary damages because of a doctrine known as sovereign immunity.  However, Congress has waived the government’s immunity in cases of civil suits because of the negligence of government agents.  Specifically, it allows claims of injury, property loss or death because of the negligence or wrongful act or omission of an employee of the U.S. Government.  It does not apply if the individual is a contractor, or if the individual is acting outside of the scope of his employment or office.

Statute of Limitations

The law encourages individuals to file their lawsuit sooner rather than later by imposing a two year statute of limitations on potential claims.


The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) requires, among other things, that a prisoner confined in a correctional facility may not bring a cause of action concerning prison conditions unless the available administrative remedies are exhausted.

Attorneys Fees

Federal civil rights law (section 1988) allows the prevailing party to recover attorneys’ fees in certain situations.  However, the PLRA limits the amount of award of fees to 150 percent of the judgment.  The first 25 percent of the monetary judgment may be applied to the attorney’s fee award and the remainder is to be paid by the defendant.

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