For the most part[1], unlike those who work in traditional settings, medical professionals working in correctional facilities face the prospect of civil rights lawsuits brought by their incarcerated patients. Often, inmates and prisoners who require medical or mental health care in their facilities are treated by more than one medical professional, possibly for the same condition or complaint. That does not mean that you are automatically liable to that incarcerated person in a civil rights case simply because you were one of his or her providers. In civil rights cases, medical professionals must have the requisite personal involvement in the underlying claims to face possible healthcare liability.

An individual’s civil rights are protected under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and gives them the power to file suit if they are deprived of their constitutional rights. Often in a correctional facility setting, claims are brought by inmates and prisoners against medical providers under the Eight Amendment right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment, and/or the Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. “Individual liability pursuant to § 1983 requires personal involvement in the alleged constitutional deprivation.”[2] To be successful in his or her claims, the inmate or prisoner “plaintiff must demonstrate a causal connection between (1) the sued officials and (2) the alleged misconduct.”[3] The medical professional must have in some way participated in the claimed deprivation of the plaintiff’s constitutional rights. Examples of personal involvement in unconstitutional conduct are learning of an inmate’s serious medical needs but choosing to ignore them, unreasonably delaying the provision of treatment, or choosing an unreasonable course of treatment, to name a few. Unconstitutional conduct must rise to the level of something more than medical negligence[4].

Unfortunately, inmates and prisoners will include in their lawsuits anyone they can remember who at some point may have provided them with medical treatment, even if the claims are phony. LKG attorneys were recently successful in dismissing a prisoner’s claims against our client, a jail nurse, related to the treatment he received for broken teeth[5]. Although our nurse had only one short interaction with the plaintiff responding to his complaints of tooth pain, that was enough to establish personal involvement at the pleadings stage. Thankfully, we were able to obtain a dismissal of our nurse because her treatment of the plaintiff was appropriate and reasonable, but even minor personal involvement can make you vulnerable to a lawsuit.

If you have questions regarding the medical treatment you provided in a correctional setting and your healthcare liability, give us a call so we can determine whether your personal involvement was enough to be susceptible to a civil rights action.

[1] Andrew Goldner, Are Emergency Medical Professionals Susceptible to Civil Rights Liabilities for Treating Incarcerated Individuals?, Leib Knott Gaynor LLC, https://lkglaw.net/are-emergency-medical-professionals-susceptible-to-civil-rights-liabilities-for-treating-incarcerated-individuals/ (Nov. 28, 2022).

[2] Carmody v. Bd. of Trs. of Univ. of Ill., 893 F.3d 397, 401 (7th Cir. 2018) (citation omitted).

[3]  Colbert v. City of Chicago, 851 F.3d 649, 657 (7th Cir. 2017).

[4] Bailey v. Andrews, 811 F.2d 366, 371 (7th Cir. 1987).

[5] Clubb v. Marinette County et al., No. 20-C-1683 (E.D. Wis. Aug. 24, 2022).