Florida Court Allows Wrongful Death Case to Move Forward

After a man died from alcohol withdrawal and heart failure while incarcerated in a Florida jail, his representatives brought a wrongful death claim against several different parties. The deceased, through his representatives of course, alleged deliberate indifference, wrongful death, and excessive use of force. The defendants filed motions to dismiss these claims. At this point, in order for the case to move forward, the plaintiff only needs to prove that the claims he charged are sufficient on their face to make a claim against the parties. In other words, if the court takes all of the facts alleged by the plaintiff as true, the parties would be guilty of the violations alleged. In court the actual facts will be determined.

Deliberate Indifference

In order for a deliberate indifference claim to stand, a plaintiff needs to prove that there were “acts or omissions sufficiently harmful to evidence deliberate indifference to serious medical needs.” Essentially, a plaintiff needs to prove that the care or response they received was so bad that it constituted a wanton and unnecessary infliction of pain. This is a much higher standard than the standard for something like medical malpractice, which just requires negligence. For deliberate indifference the plaintiff also must prove that the people who acted cruelly were aware that there was a substantial risk of harm.

Here, the federal court for the Middle District of Florida held that the case could move forward on deliberate indifference grounds against the company that owns the jail. In order to withstand a motion to dismiss against the prison company, the plaintiff needs to allege facts that show there was a custom or policy of the organization that led to his death. Here, the court was satisfied with plaintiff’s allegations of the company consistently being medically short-staffed and taking a very long time to provide necessary medications to inmates who need it.

Regarding the doctor on staff at the time of the plaintiff’s death, the court also allowed that claim to move forward on deliberate indifference. They held that the doctor knew that the plaintiff was going through alcohol withdrawal, yet she did not make sure that the prescribed medication was administered. The court also allowed the deliberate indifference claims against the nurses to move forward. They reasoned that there were sufficient indications that the plaintiff was in danger and they did not administer the appropriate medical care.

Wrongful Death

Along with the deliberate indifference claims, the plaintiff also alleged that the company that runs the prison was liable for wrongful death under a medical malpractice theory. The court also allowed this claim to go forward. The court acknowledged that it was unsure whether the company that runs the prison can be held liable for medical malpractice, but that at this stage of the proceedings the allegations can move forward.

Excessive Use of Force

A defendant can be held liable for excessive use of force when the force used against a person was purposefully objectively unreasonable. The court will look at the amount of force used and the other circumstances of the situation to determine whether the force used was unreasonable. Even officers who do not participate in the use of force can be held liable when they are in a position to stop excessive use of force and they do not intervene. Here, before the plaintiff’s death, he was tased multiple times. The court also allowed plaintiff’s excessive use of force claims to move forward against the guards who were present while he was tased and restrained as there was no evidence that he presented a security concern. Especially since the plaintiff was being held for DWI, rather than a violent crime, the court also allowed deliberate indifference and wrongful death claims against the Sheriff to move forward in his capacity as the overseer of the jail.

Contact an Experienced South Florida Wrongful Death Attorney Today!

If a loved one has died due to the fault of someone else, you may be able to recover damages on their behalf. The knowledgeable South Florida wrongful death attorneys at Donaldson & Weston can help you to get justice for your family member. Call Donaldson & Weston at 772-266-555 or 561-299-3999 or use the contact form on this website to schedule your free, confidential consultation today!

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