Ex-Prisoner Receives $12 Million Judgment in Lawsuit Against Prison

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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A former Illinois inmate has been awarded a $12 million judgment by a federal jury for injuries he suffered after his epilepsy medicine was denied while he was incarcerated.  Raymond Fox suffered permanent brain damage as a result of a series of epileptic seizures, and now requires constant personal care. 

Prison System Failed in its Duty to Inmate

Mr. Fox’s lawsuit alleged that the Illinois prison system had a duty to its inmate to provide proper medication for his epilepsy.  Lawyers for the plaintiff criticized guards for failing to view Mr. Fox as a human being simply because he was incarcerated, citing evidence that they repeatedly ignored his please for medication to avoid seizures.  Testimony from a fellow inmate in an adjoining cell confirmed to the jury that Mr. Fox made prison officials aware of his condition, and begged for more medication to treat his condition.

The federal jury in Chicago, convinced by the evidence, issued a strong indictment of the prison’s inaction with its $12 million judgment, $1 million of which was a punitive award.  Punitive damages are rare, and reserved for defendants who have been seriously negligent to cause a plaintiff harm.  Lawyers familiar with the difficulties associated with prisoners’ rights lawsuits claim this lawsuit represents a significant step forward for inmates who have been mistreated by prison officials. 

Lawsuit Supports Prisoner Rights

Although life in a United States prison is unquestionably harsh, advocates of prisoner rights exist to ensure that prison officials and guards are held accountable for mistreatment.  The 8th Amendment to the Constitution, which applies to both federal and state prisons, prevents the “cruel and unusual punishment” of criminals in the US, and decisions in lawsuits have shaped the specific interpretation of what rights prisoners have.

Eighth Amendment cases have eliminated corporal punishment, limited excessive sentences, and, most importantly for Mr. Fox, set the standard for medical treatment owed inmates.  According to the United States Supreme Court in the 1994 decision of Farmer v Brennan, a prison official’s “deliberate indifference” to a substantial risk of harm constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the 8th Amendment.  Although this standard is not clearly defined, a prisoner who can argue that prison officials knew of a risk of harm and ignored it to the inmate’s detriment may be entitled to legal compensation.

In this case, Mr. Fox’s attorneys successfully demonstrated that the Illinois prison officials were aware of the risks associated with denying him medication, and did so anyway.  As a result of their conscious and deliberate indifference to his medical condition, Mr. Fox suffered permanent brain damage and was therefore entitled to a significant judgment. 

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