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New York Prisoner Death Lawyer

Prisoner wrongful death is a serious issue that raises concerns about prisoner abuse in New York correctional facilities. When an prisoner dies under circumstances that suggest negligence, abuse, or failure to provide adequate care, it not only represents a tragic loss of life but also highlights potential systemic failures within the correctional system. Families of the deceased are left coping with the loss and seeking answers about how such a tragedy could have occurred. Prisoners are under the care and supervision of corrections officers and prison staff, who are responsible for ensuring their safety and well-being. Despite the controlled environment, prisoners face numerous risks, including violence from other prisoners or staff, inadequate medical care, and mental health crises. These risks can lead to preventable deaths.

Wrongful death lawsuits serve as a legal remedy for families seeking justice for the loss of their loved one. These lawsuits can address various issues, such as negligence, deliberate indifference to prisoner needs, and violations of constitutional rights. However, pursuing a wrongful death claim involves navigating intricate legal processes and understanding who has the standing to file such a lawsuit. Given the complexities involved in prisoner wrongful death cases, it is important for affected families to seek legal guidance. An experienced New York prisoner death lawyer can provide the necessary expertise to navigate the legal landscape, ensure that the rights of the deceased and their family are protected, and work towards obtaining justice and compensation for the wrongful death of an prisoner.

Leading Causes of Prisoner Deaths in New York

Prisoner deaths in New York can occur for a variety of reasons. Some of the leading causes include:

  • Suicide: Suicide is one of the most common causes of prisoner deaths. The isolation, stress, and mental health issues that prisoners often face can lead to suicidal thoughts and actions. According to statistics compiled by the New York City Comptroller, 50% of all prisoners suffer from a mental health diagnosis and that the percentage of prisoners with serious mental health diagnoses is increasing. The result of mental illness and the stresses of being incarcerated can lead prisoners to suicide. That is essentially what led to the suicide of prisoner Adam Rappaport and the wrongful death lawsuit that he mother filed. See Rappaport v. Corr. Med. Care, 159 N.Y.S.3d 205 (N.Y. App. Div. 2021). Adam Rappaport had a history of mental health issues including bipolar disorder, anxiety, and depression. He also was addicted to heroin and was experiencing withdrawal. Around the time he was arrested and arrived at Rikers, he expressed suicide ideation. A few days after arriving at Rikers, Rappaport committed suicide.
  • Violence: Prisoners may die as a result of violence from other prisoners or from correctional officers. This can include physical assaults, stabbings, and other forms of violent altercations. Rikers Island, Attica, Sing Sing, Clinton, and other New York correctional facilities are known to be among the most violent in New York. In fact, some consider Rikers Island to be among the most dangerous prisons in the country. Abuse by corrections officers as well as by prisoners lead to many deaths each year.
  • Medical Neglect: Many prisoners suffer from chronic health conditions and require regular medical care. Neglecting to provide proper medical attention can lead to severe health complications and death.
  • Drug Overdoses: Prisoners may gain access to illegal drugs within the prison. Overdoses can occur due to the lack of proper monitoring and intervention by prison staff.
  • Natural Causes: In some cases, prisoners may die from natural causes such as heart attacks, strokes, or other medical conditions.
` Duty of Corrections Officers to Keep Prisoners Safe

Corrections officers have a legal duty to ensure the safety and well-being of prisoners. This duty includes:

  • Monitoring Prisoners: Corrections officers must regularly monitor prisoners to identify any signs of distress, violence, or medical issues. This includes conducting routine checks and maintaining a presence within the facility.
  • Providing Medical Care: Prisoners are entitled to receive adequate medical care. Corrections officers must ensure that prisoners have access to necessary medical treatments and medications.
  • Preventing Violence: Officers must take measures to prevent violence within the facility. This includes separating prisoners who pose a threat to others and intervening in violent altercations.
  • Responding to Emergencies: In the event of an emergency, such as a medical crisis or a suicide attempt, corrections officers must respond promptly and effectively to provide assistance and prevent harm.

Thus, corrections officers, other prison staff, supervisors, and others responsibility for the management of the facility may be liable for the death of an prisoner, even if no prison staff physically abused them. Physically abusing prisoners and using excessive force is illegal and a violation of prisoners’ rights. However, failing to provide medical care, failing to intervene, and failing to respond to emergencies can lead to legal liability if such inaction leads to the serious injury or death of the prisoner. If a loved one died while incarcerated in New York, contact an experienced New York prisoner death lawyer to understand your legal options and seek justice for your loss.

Wrongful Death Lawsuits and Liability of Corrections Officers

A wrongful death lawsuit is a legal action brought by the survivors or representatives of a deceased person against those responsible for the death. The purpose of such a lawsuit is to seek compensation for the losses suffered by the survivors as a result of the death. In the context of prisoner deaths, a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed if it is believed that the actions or inactions of corrections officers or prison staff contributed to the death.

Corrections officers and prison facilities can be held liable for prisoner deaths if it is determined that they failed to fulfill their duty of care. Liability may arise from:

  • Negligence: If officers fail to take reasonable steps to prevent harm to an prisoner, they may be found negligent. This could include failing to monitor an prisoner who is known to be suicidal or not providing necessary medical care. It could also mean failing to intervene when an prisoner is being attacked by another prisoner.
  • Deliberate Indifference: In cases where officers are aware of a substantial risk to an prisoner’s health or safety and choose to ignore it, they may be found guilty of deliberate indifference. This is a higher standard of fault than negligence and requires a showing of reckless disregard for the prisoner’s well-being.
  • Excessive Force: If an prisoner dies as a result of excessive force used by corrections officers, the officers and the facility may be held liable as the prisoner’s constitutional rights would have been violated. This includes instances where force was used unnecessarily or in a manner that was not proportional to the threat posed by the prisoner. In example of this is the case of Terry L. Cooper, Jr. who was an prisoner at Clinton Correctional Facility. Three corrections officers, claiming that Cooper initiated the violence, severely beat Cooper using batons. As he was escorted to the affirming, Cooper, who suffered from asthma, complained of not being able to breathe. Soon thereafter, Cooper died. See Cooper v. State, # 2019-041-019 (N.Y. Ct. Cl. Apr. 17, 2019). His mother, Tracy Cooper, filed a lawsuit alleging the officers used excessive force and failed to intervene to aid Cooper, violating his civil rights under the Eighth Amendment. The found in her favor, awarding her $9.5 million.
Steps to Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

In New York, the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate is the only individual with the legal standing to file a wrongful death lawsuit. The personal representative is typically appointed by the court and is responsible for managing the deceased person’s estate. The personal representative can file the lawsuit on behalf of the deceased person’s surviving family members, such as spouses, children, and parents, who may be entitled to receive compensation.

The first thing that you should is contact an experienced prisoner death attorney in New York who understands the process of filing a wrongful death lawsuit involving the death of an prisoner in New York. Generally, filing a wrongful death lawsuit involves several steps:

  • Investigation: A thorough investigation must be conducted to gather evidence of the circumstances surrounding the prisoner’s death. This includes obtaining medical records, witness statements, and any relevant documentation from the correctional facility.
  • Consulting with Experts: In many cases, it is necessary to consult with medical experts, forensic specialists, and other professionals to establish the cause of death and the extent of the facility’s liability.
  • Filing the Notice of Claim: Before initiating a lawsuit, the personal representative must file a Notice of Claim against the government entity. In New York, this notice must be filed within 90 days of the date of the death. The Notice of Claim must detail the allegations and the basis for the claim, giving the government entity a chance to investigate and potentially settle the claim before a formal lawsuit is filed.
  • Filing the Complaint: The personal representative must file a formal complaint in the appropriate court. The complaint outlines the allegations against the defendants and the basis for the wrongful death claim. The complaint must be fined in the appropriate court. For example, if prisoner was serving their sentence at Sing Sing, the company would likely need to be filed in the Westchester County Supreme Court, 111 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd White Plains, NY 10601. It's advisable to contact an experienced prisoner death attorney in New York to ensure the complaint is filed in the correct jurisdiction and to receive guidance through the legal process.
  • Discovery: During the discovery phase, both parties exchange information and evidence related to the case. This may include depositions, interrogatories, and requests for documents.
  • Settlement Negotiations: Before going to trial, the parties may engage in settlement negotiations to resolve the case without the need for a court trial. If a fair settlement cannot be reached, the case will proceed to trial.
  • Trial: During the trial, both parties present their evidence and arguments to the court. The judge or jury will determine whether the defendants are liable for the wrongful death and, if so, the amount of damages to be awarded.

If the plaintiff is successful, the damages awarded may include compensatory damages for the financial support the decedent would have provided to the family, funeral and burial expenses, and medical expenses related to the prisoner’s death. Additionally, damages can be awarded for the conscious pain and suffering endured by the decedent prior to death. If the conduct of the defendants was particularly egregious, punitive damages might also be awarded to punish and deter future misconduct. However, every case is different and the amount of damages depends on the specific facts of each case.

Contact Stephen Bilkis & Associates

If a loved one passed away while incarcerated in New York, it is important to seek legal advice from an experienced prisoner death attorney serving New York who can help you understand your legal rights, guide you through the process of filing a wrongful death lawsuit, and work to secure the compensation you deserve. Contact us to discuss your case and learn about your legal options. Contact us at 800.696.9529 to schedule a free, no obligation consultation regarding your case. We represent clients in the following locations: Brooklyn, Long Island, Queens, Manhattan, Nassau County, Staten Island, Suffolk County, Bronx, and Westchester County.

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