Litigating a case involving the wrongful death of a citizen in jail requires experienced attorneys. Jail death cases are unlike many other forms of litigation. Lawyers who lack experience in jail death lawsuits, or who treat jail death cases like other common lawsuits, are prone to making significant errors. Some of these mistakes, even those that are easily avoidable, can have serious consequences and can result in a judge dismissing the case even the case has significant merit. Avoiding these pitfalls is one reason to hire a lawyer who focuses on cases involving jail death and knows what such cases require.
One of the most common mistakes made by attorneys without experience handling federal jail death litigation relates to the failure to file a properly-worded lawsuit. The document that begins a lawsuit is called a “complaint” and the words that are contained in the complaint are called “allegations.” Unless the attorney makes properly-worded allegations in the complaint, certain aspects of the lawsuit (or possibly even the entire lawsuit) can be dismissed by the court before the family’s attorney even has a chance to conduct basic discovery into the facts and circumstances surrounding the wrongful death. Unfortunately, the dismissal of meritorious lawsuits based on an attorneys’ failure to properly word the complaint is far too common.
When someone wrongfully dies in jail, there are a variety of people and entities who may be responsible for the death under the U.S. Constitution. In a jail run by a county or city, the county or city itself may be responsible for constitutional violations. In a jail run by a private company (or where healthcare services are provided under contract with a private correctional healthcare company), the private company may be responsible.
However, unlike the vast majority of other kinds of wrongful death litigation, a county, city, or private company cannot be held legally responsible for the constitutional violations of their employees simply because they employed the people whose neglect or misconduct caused the death. Rather, in lawsuits involving a wrongful death in jail, the county, city or private company that employed the individual wrongdoers will only be legally responsible for a constitutional violation if it can be shown that a policy, practice, or custom of that entity was the moving force (i.e., the cause) of the constitutional violation or if a policymaker of that entity was involved in making decisions that led to the death. Certain kinds of language must be used in the lawsuit in order to properly claim county, city or corporate liability. Without proper wording, a lawsuit that merely alleges county, city or corporate liability based on the principles that apply to most other cases can be dismissed by the court.
There are other requirements as well. Within the last few years, the Supreme Court has imposed requirements on the wording of such lawsuits that effectively requires much more detailed allegations than are ordinarily required in state court cases (and much more detail than was required in the past). It is important that the attorneys representing the family of a loved one who has died in jail know about these recent developments, what these requirements are, and how these requirements can be met. Attorneys who do not focus on jail death litigation in federal court may be unfamiliar with these requirements and may file a lawsuit that fails to allege sufficient factual detail to withstand a motion to dismiss.
The attorneys at Budge & Heipt focus on jail death litigation and have many years of experience handling such lawsuits. If a loved one has died in jail and you are considering your legal options, contact Budge & Heipt for a free consultation. Experience matters.