Inmate Death or Injury in Prison?

Mississippi Injury Lawyer Helps Victims of Jail Violence or Neglect

Video Transcript:

Merrida Coxwell:

We've had multiple cases against private prisons for serious injuries and against health care facilities that have failed to treat properly.

Rob Rosenthal:

So if a prisoner in the United States is injured in a private prison, can they sue for damages? And what do they do? Well we're gonna find out right now, because that's what we're going to Ask the Lawyer on today's episode. Hi again everybody, I'm Rob Rosenthal with AskTheLawyers.com. My guest is Mississippi attorney Merrida Coxwell. Right off the top, before we get to Merrida, want to remind you, if you want to ask him questions of your own, it's easy to do, go to AskTheLawyers.com, click the button on the top corner that says Ask a Lawyer, or you can call the phone number that's on the screen when we were talking to Merrida. Merrida, thank you for making some time answering questions today.

Merrida Coxwell:

Yeah, good morning or actually good afternoon. And it's good to talk to you again.

Rob Rosenthal:

So we're talking about private prisons. You're in Mississippi. Do you have many private prisons there?

Merrida Coxwell:

Yes, we do, I'm just going off the top of my head, but I think we have three or four or maybe up to five, I'm not really sure right now.

Rob Rosenthal:

So these are prisons that are run by private companies, for-profit companies, but they're contracted by the government, I'm sure you'll correct me if I'm getting this wrong. If prisoners are injured in these prisons, are they able to sue? Do they sue the government? How does all that work Merrida?

Merrida Coxwell:

No, actually, you have two situations. Sometimes you will have a private prison and then you'll have a separate health care facility inside the private prison, so if someone is injured inside the private prison, you can sue under what we call 1983, which normally is against a government agency, but you can also sue for simple negligence. I know putting simple is not in front of it, but it's not really how its defined, but you can sue for just general negligence that is someone had a duty to protect you and they breach that duty, and you were injured as a result. And if you were also treated in the separate healthcare facility, you might have a separate action against them. We've had multiple cases against private prisons for serious injuries and against health care facilities that have failed to treat properly inmates that were confined in those private facilities.

Rob Rosenthal:

Let's talk about what some of these injuries are that you've seen. We're not just talking about somebody who just just stubbed a toe, some of these injuries are very serious. Tell me about what they are and then how they happen.

Merrida Coxwell:

Yes, we've had serious brain damage cases, we've had multiple stabbings, we've had... I don't know, just about every kind of violent injury. Obviously, prisons are violent, and there is a duty on the prison to protect individuals, and that's what many of our claims for. We've even had cases where the video showed the guards not stopping a fight, and in some instances, opening up a door where inmates could get to other inmates.

Rob Rosenthal:

Wow.

Merrida Coxwell:

So there's a wide variety and wide menagerie of cases that we've handled against private prisons

Rob Rosenthal:

And... Does this happen more often in private prisons than non-private, Merrida? And why would that be?

Merrida Coxwell:

Well, you can't sue the state for monetary damages, so whatever happens in a state prison, people will bring declaratory actions to stop unconstitutional behavior, but you can't get a money judgement. 

Rob Rosenthal:

Okay. 

Merrida Coxwell:

So we also file actions against municipal and county government for violation of civil rights, that's a much harder standard, but we've had some very, very large cases against jails who failed to protect someone or failed to provide adequate care. The last major one we had was a man in jail for only a misdemeanor, and he died, very young man, and he died because the jail essentially lost him. He was diabetic, he didn't get his diabetic medicine and he died in the county jail. They're harder than private prisons, but we still have a lot of those cases also.

Rob Rosenthal:

So in these private jails, Merrida, and you've had a lot of experience with this, is it as simple as the case of these are for-profit prisons and they're putting profits ahead of inmate safety?

Merrida Coxwell:

Well, that's certainly what we see is happening, because one of the major claims that we make every time is failure to protect an inmate, whether that inmate has been asked to be put on protective custody, or whether doors were opened, or doors won't lock. There's just a menagerie that we see time after time after time again. In some instances, there'll only be one or two guards in private prisons for 600 inmates, and there's no way you can watch that many inmates. There'll be situations where logs have been falsified saying that the guards made the rounds and they did not make the rounds, there are just every imaginable claim that you can think of, Chuck Mullins and I have probably crossed paths with that claim.

Rob Rosenthal:

How important is it, Merrida, to have an attorney who has the experience like you've had when you're dealing with some of these cases? How important is that experience?

Merrida Coxwell:

Well, this probably the single largest reason that other lawyers call and talk to us is our experience in private prison litigation and civil rights cases. They're complex area of the law. There's a prison reform litigation act that you have to comply with in some instances before you can go forward, and there are a lot of little steps you have to take, and if you miss those steps, you can mess up an individual's claim. And as a matter of fact, driving in this morning when I was thinking about our call today, a lawyer from East Mississippi called me about one of these claims, and we probably get one call a week from a lawyer somewhere in Mississippi, maybe more, but at least one.

Rob Rosenthal:

And it would seem to me, and I certainly don't know anything like you know, but if you're dealing with a private company and the government is kind of involved in any time you gotta deal with the government, that's complicated and difficult. So I just can't imagine how you have to really navigate some treacherous waters there.

Merrida Coxwell:

Well, you pretty much can divide those up. We've either either got a civil rights action against a municipal county government, or we got a private prison action, because when the government contracts with the private prison, they essentially hand them the whole bundle. So if you have an injury in a private prison, you are suing on behalf of that prisoner for injuries against that corporation.

Rob Rosenthal:

And what's the process like Merrida, somebody, say somebody's seriously injured in a prison, what's the process they have their... Is it usually family members that get in touch with you? How does that work?

Merrida Coxwell:

It's almost always family members or someone who may have represented them previously, but it's a process like every other case, they're usually filed in federal court, and you go through the same process. You file your lawsuit. The private prison has a group of lawyers, they file an answer, you start doing depositions. We request documents, so it goes through the same process as any ordinary civil negligence action would go through.

Rob Rosenthal:

Do you usually request that the person be moved to another facility while the process is going on? Or they stay where they are?

Merrida Coxwell:

No, some of the cases we've had, unfortunately, the inmates are dead and we're bringing the action on behalf of their survivors. Some instances they will have been moved to protective custody. That really depends on the circumstances.

Rob Rosenthal:

It's really a fascinating conversation, Merrida, thank you so much for making some time to answer our questions. I think you helped a lot of people today. 

Merrida Coxwell:

You're welcome. Thank you very much. 

Rob Rosenthal:

That's gonna do it for this episode of Ask The Lawyer. My guest has been Mississippi attorney Merrida Coxwell. Remember, if you wanna contact Merrida and ask questions of your own, go to AskTheLawyers.com, click the button in the upper corner that says Ask a Lawyer, and it's a very simple process right there. Thanks for watching. I'm Rob Rosenthal with Ask the Lawyers.

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