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Florida prison accused of denying needed eye treatment

We have previously discussed medical care issues within the Florida prison system. As we have detailed, some of these have resulted in wrongful death and medical malpractice suits against the companies that provide health care to prisoners, as well as against prisons and other government entities in Florida.

A federal appeals court has ruled that a former prisoner can sue the Florida Department of Corrections, as well as several individuals under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. He has alleged inadequate medical care and negligence that caused vision impairment to one eye and permanent blindness in the other. According to the U.S. Constitution, the Eighth Amendment prohibits “excessive fines and excessive bail, as well as cruel and unusual punishment.”

The plaintiff was jailed in June 2008 for a probation violation. When his eyesight deteriorated, an optometrist determined that he was suffering from proliferative diabetic retinopathy. That condition, if untreated, can cause blindness. Reportedly, the optometrist advised an examination by a retinal specialist. However, the plaintiff signed a document refusing to see a specialist. A federal judge granted a summary judgment to the defendants in the man’s lawsuit because he signed this Refusal of Health Care Services Affidavit.

That affidavit and the conditions under which the plaintiff signed it are at the heart of the appeals court decision. The court ruled that “a reasonable jury” could determine that he did not have “informed consent” when he signed the affidavit.

According to the plaintiff, the nurses told him to sign the document when he requested another form to stipulate that he no longer be subject to certain movement restrictions. He claims he signed the form because an inmate “does what he is told or else he goes to solitary confinement” and that no one explained to him what he was signing. The plaintiff, who was in his 40s at the time, says he was denied any further treatment for his condition during the remainder of his incarceration (which ended in March 2009) based on that affidavit.

The plaintiff and his lawyers may indeed be able to find Florida jurors who have signed a document that they couldn’t read or understand. The jury may be sympathetic to the plight of a man with severe vision impairment who says that he was not aware of the long-term consequences of a document that he was instructed to sign while he was in prison.

Source: Courthouse News, “Florida Corrections Must Answer to Man Left Blind” Courtney Walters, Feb. 13, 2014

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