Inmate Asthma Death Suit Continues

In Luckey v. City of New York, the Appellate Division, First Department held on August 7, 2014 that the trial court should not have dismissed the plaintiff’s negligence claims against the City of New York.

“Plaintiff’s’ decedent was an inmate at Rikers Island who was treated for chronic asthma during the few weeks in which she was incarcerated before her death.”

The appellate court held that the trial court “incorrectly dismissed the negligence claims against the City, as there are triable issues of fact about whether the response of its correction officers breached a duty to protect decedent from reasonably foreseeable harm in providing emergency medical assistance once she complained of difficulty breathing and otherwise exhibited signs of an asthma attack.”

It continued:

Dozens of eyewitnesses provided conflicting accounts regarding, among other things, the timing of the officers’ calls for medical assistance, and whether resuscitative efforts undertaken before medical personnel arrived were performed by the officers or whether other inmates took such measures in the face of inaction by the officers. Plaintiffs’ expert affirmation raised triable issues of fact as to the adequacy of the officers’ response and the soundness of defendants’ expert’s opinions. The City’s reliance on governmental immunity is unavailing, since there are triable issues of fact as to whether the death was caused in part by a negligent failure to comply with mandatory rules and regulations of the New York City Department of Corrections (DOC), requiring, among other things, that correction officers respond immediately in a medical emergency, and that officers who are trained and certified in CPR administer CPR where appropriate.

However, it held that the trial court correctly dismissed plaintiffs’ § 1983 claim against the City:

Deliberate indifference is a stringent standard of fault, requiring proof that a municipal actor disregarded a known or obvious consequence of his action. Without notice that a course of training is deficient in a particular respect, decisionmakers can hardly be said to have deliberately chosen a training program that will cause violations of constitutional rights.

Here, the two employees allegedly acting unconstitutionally were involved in the very incident for which § 1983 damages are sought against the City. Accordingly, their conduct could not have put the City on prior notice that its training was deficient, sufficient to demonstrate the City’s deliberate indifference.

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