Deliberate indifference and medical malpractice


Deliberate indifference and medical malpractice.

        Deliberate indifference to a serious medical need arises when there is reckless omission to a prisoner’s health or safety. This occurs when a prisoner in need of medical treatment, care and attention cannot access a public or a private hospital facility to secure treatment, it also occurs when a prisoner cannot, at will, call a practitioner to treat him/her in prison, because of restrictions by the prison officials. When prison officials fail to act on a serious medical issue concerning the inmate’s health or safety, they will be liable to charges concerning deliberate indifference in the court of law. On the other hand, medical malpractice arises when a health care provider is negligent or careless in providing medical attention and treatment. Delayed treatment, error in medication, wrong diagnosis and treatment which is below the accepted standards, amount to a medical malpractice. A doctor or a health care provider can be sued for medical malpractice in a court of law. Different countries have varied laws and regulations, standards and penalties concerning medical malpractice. Health care providers may take insurance cover against any liabilities arising from medical malpractices (Farmer, 1994).

      According to state law, deliberate indifference occurs when prison official neglects or disregard an inmates’ medical needs or prevents him/her from accessing a public or a private hospital for medical attention and treatment.  Deliberate indifference has a close definition as negligence. In federal law, prisoners have civil rights to medical attention and treatment. These rights are intended to stop the denial of medical care for prisoners (Kurki, 2000).  However, according to the eight amendment of the US federal law which provides prisoners with the civil rights, deliberate indifference must be proved in the court of law for the defendant to be held liable.

         The following example demonstrates how deliberate indifference to state inmates occurred; Janet, an inmate at the West Valley Detention Centre, had medical problems which included; nausea, headaches and shakes.She requested for mental health care, a diagnosis was done and the medical provider concluded that she suffered from mild stress and fatigue and, he did not refer her for further treatment. Following the medical report the court concluded that Janet’s medical condition was not so serious.  However, Janet’s condition worsened and the medical provider was held liable for recklessness and under treatment on an inmates’ medical condition.

        According to Justiss (2009), an example of deliberate indifference in federal inmates is demonstrated in the case where an inmate in South Dakota Women Prison, filed a case, in which the defendants had been deliberately indifferent to the inmates medical condition. She complained of being punished for filing the case when the prison officials failed to attend to her medical needs. The court held that, the prison officials violated the civil rights of the inmate who required serious medical attention and, thus they were held liable for deliberate indifference to an inmate s’ medical needs.

However, according to the eight amendments in the US federal law which outlines the prisoners civil rights, deliberate indifference must be evidenced in a court of law. Farmer (1997) explains that deliberate indifference also occurs in other institutions, and not only in prisons. Further more he argues that, the state and federal judicial systems have the duties and responsibilities to train their employees on ethics and carry out reforms that will ensure that inmate’s civil rights are adhered to.




Kurki, L. (2000). Restorative and community justice in the United States, in M. Tonry, ed., Crime and justice: A Review of Research 27: 235-303. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Justiss, G. (2009). Deliberate indifference under § 1983: Do the courts really care? The Review of Litigation, 28(4), 953-981. Retrieved from accountid=45049.

Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994). Retrieved 2008-12-30.



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