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US Supreme Court Limits Inmates Ability to Sue for Personal Injuries

Supreme Court.jpgThe Charlotte Observer recently reported that the U.S. Supreme Court has handed down a new decision regarding an inmate’s ability to file personal injury claims. On Tuesday, January 10, 2012, the Court ruled in an 8-1 decision that inmates held in federal custody in privately owned prisons can only file personal injury claims in state court. They cannot file claims in federal court. Writing for the majority, Justice Beyer said that the state law claims are enough to protect the inmate’s constitutional rights.

The suit was sparked by federal inmate Richard Pollard who filed a federal suit in California claiming that his treatment in a California jail violated the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Pollard was injured while performing his job at the prison. He fractured his elbow and broke other small bones. He claimed that the prison guards exacerbated the injury by forcing him into a position that aggravated his injury further. He filed a complaint, but it was dismissed by a federal judge. After appealing the dismissal up to the Supreme Court, the Court held that he could have filed a negligence action in the state of California, but he did not.

The Court acknowledged that federal lawsuits may provide more of a remedy in these situations, but ultimately decided that because the inmate was housed in a privately-owned prison, state law was his only recourse. If Pollard had been an inmate at a federal or state-operated facility, he would have been able to sue in federal court. This new ruling severely limits inmates who may have legitimate federal claims against the prison from being able to pursue them in the proper venue.


Because this is a ruling by the United States Supreme Court, it is binding on all lower federal courts including those that sit in North Carolina. As such, North Carolina personal injury attorneys who represent clients that are incarcerated have to go back to the drawing board and re-think their litigation strategy. The playing field has been limited to state court and that may require that personal injury lawyers take a different approach or plead a different set of circumstances in order for the client to be compensated for injuries suffered while incarcerated. This kind of litigation is time-consuming and complicated. It is important that it not be taken lightly and not be undertaken alone. If you or someone you know has been injured in any way and requires the assistance of a Charlotte personal injury lawyer, contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today for a free consultation at 704-370-2828.

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