Jail Death Cases: A Major New Court Ruling

The attorneys at Budge & Heipt regularly monitor important new court rulings that may impact jail death cases.  On August 15, 2016, the federal appeals court that covers most of the Western United States issued an important new decision that may significantly benefit those who have lost loved ones who have died in jail.  The case, called Castro v. County of Los Angeles, may impact jail death litigation in such states as Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Idaho and Montana.  With convincing argument, the reasoning of the case might even be adopted by courts in other jurisdictions as well.

The new case impacts the rights of people who have been arrested and confined in jail before they are convicted.  In legal terms, such people are known as “pretrial detainees.” (The case does not directly affect the rights of convicted prisoners who are serving prison sentences.)

The new ruling makes it easier to win some kinds of jail death and serious injury cases involving pretrial detainees.  Essentially, the ruling lowers the burden of proof in certain types of cases and perhaps in other kinds of cases as well (although it remains to be seen if the court’s reasoning will be extended to all claims by pretrial detainees).  The new court ruling holds that, in certain circumstances, a person suing for the death or serious injury of a pretrial detainee in jail need not show that the jail officers had “subjective awareness” of the risk of harm.  Rather, in some circumstances, it may be possible to win by showing that the jail officers acted unreasonably in failing to react to a substantial risk of serious harm.  Although the court ruling does not necessarily apply to all claims of pretrial detainees (such as claims for inadequate medical care), it is possible to argue that the reasoning of the case should be extended to all such claims by pretrial detainees.  How far the ruling will extend and whether all courts will adopt it, remains to be seen.  However, the case is an important one and one that may eventually apply to other kinds of claims as well.

If a loved one has died in jail or if you have suffered serious injury as a result of neglect or mistreatment in jail, please contact Budge & Heipt for a free consultation.

If you or a loved one has been a victim of serious injury and/or death at the hands of police or in jail or prison, tell us about your case.