How to File a Lawsuit for Prison Suicide Damages ?
In Colburn v. Upper Darby Township, 838 F.2d 663 (3d Cir. 1988) (Colburn I), it was held that an inmate's "particular vulnerability to suicide" represents a "serious medical need" as that term was defined in Estelle. Subsequently, the Third Circuit articulated a standard for prison suicide cases as follows:
Plaintiff in a prison suicide case has the burden of establishing three elements:
(1) the detainee had a "particular vulnerability to suicide;
(2) the custodial officer or officers knew or should have known of that vulnerability;
(3) those officers "acted with reckless indifference" to the detainee's particular vulnerability. Colburn v. Upper Darby Township, 946 F.2d 1017, 1023 (3d Cir. 1991) (Colburn II).
The Colburn II court explained that the terms "reckless indifference" and "deliberate indifference" are interchangeable. Id. at 1024.
It declined to precisely define "deliberate indifference," but noted that "a level of culpability higher than a negligent failure to protect from self-inflicted harm is required and that this requirement is relevant to an evaluation of the first two ... elements as well as the third." Id.
Three years after Colburn II was decided, the United States Supreme Court offered its first articulation of "deliberate indifference" for purposes of its Eighth Amendment jurisprudence.
In Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 114 S. Ct. 1970, 128 L. Ed. 2d 811 (1994), the Supreme Court rejected an objective test for deliberate indifference, such as that adopted by the Third Circuit in Coburn II.
Instead, the Court borrowed the concept of subjective recklessness from criminal law and held that a prison official cannot be found liable under the Eighth Amendment for denying an inmate humane conditions of confinement unless the official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference. ... Id. at 837.
The Court explained further that "prison officials who actually knew of a substantial risk to inmate health or safety may be found free from liability if they responded reasonably to the risk, even if the harm ultimately was not averted." Id. at 844.
In establishing a subjective test, the Supreme Court drew on precedent holding that the constitutional deprivation had to be obvious and that the prison official must have "a sufficiently culpable state of mind." Id. at 834.
Further, that state of mind must be "more blameworthy than negligence." Id. at 835.
In rejecting the objective test for deliberate indifference, the Supreme Court explained as follows:
An official's failure to alleviate a significant risk that he should have perceived but did not, while no cause for commendation, cannot under our cases be condemned as the infliction of punishment. Id. at 838.