Changes in Washington Practice (#24) / Right to medical care for jail and prison inmates

December 17, 2014

Washington State LawThis is installment #24 in a continuing series of Changes in Washington Practice Reports.

A new chapter has been added to Criminal Practice and Procedure by Ferguson (volumes 12-13 of Washington Practice), regarding an “Inmate’s Right to Adequate Medical Care” (Ch. 55).

This chapter starts off with a general introduction to the constitutional rights that are retained by prisoners. As noted, there is a “particular…duty to ensure ‘health, welfare and safety.’”

A municipality has the “duty to provide competent and adequate medical care and treatment”. This duty “is nondelegable”.

State claims may be brought for “common law negligence torts”, “tort of breach of non- delegable duty”, “wrongful death”, and “breach of contract”.

Federal claims may be brought for constitutional rights violations and for actions under 42 USC Section 1983.

A Personal Representative for a deceased inmate “may prosecute…state and federal claims….”

“To prove a state tort negligence claim, four elements must be established: (1) a legal duty; (2) a breach of that duty; (3) proximate causation; and (4) an actual injury….”

For a claim under the “federal constitutional right to adequate medical care, the prisoner must show…(treatment that involved) ‘deliberate indifference to a serious medical need….’”

As noted by Ferguson, lack of adequate care may result from jail or prison employees and providers who “resist learning too much”, “do not test”, “test once and stop”, “do not listen to others”, “do not consult others”, “postpone diagnosis and treatment”, “continue ordinary and ineffective treatment”, delay treatment prior to release”, or “blame the patient”.

“Ineffective grievance procedures” may also enter into the care provided.

There may be a tension, in many circumstances, between a tendency by those who supervise jails and prisons, and provide care, and the treatment of prisoners who have medical needs but also may resent and resist authority.

What is required is a complex combination of two types of relationships, those of prison employees and providers—and prisoners, combined with those of caregivers—and  patients.

It may be stressful for all concerned in efforts to combine jailer and provider requirements, and prisoner and patient requirements. This dual legal obligation can create ongoing challenges to adapt to the situation.

Chapter 55 also discusses potential types of available relief.

This comprehensive addition to Volumes 12-13 provides in-depth and wide-ranging coverage of this subject.

Whenever attorneys wish to locate specific resource materials, Methods of Practice (volumes 1 to 1C) of Washington Practice can also provide useful assistance. Criminal Practice and Procedure is summarized in volume 1B of Methods of Practice.

Chapters 58 to 66 of Volume 1B provide cross-references between the Superior Court Criminal Rules (CrR) and the resource materials provided by Ferguson. Chapter 67 presents a guest chapter by Ferguson on “Criminal Procedure Practice Tips”, while Chapter 68 presents an overview of Volumes 12-13.

Excerpts from all of the volumes of Washington Practice are presented in an easily-searchable format, so that potential cites may be quickly located. The individual volumes of interest may then be examined for the needed details.