Federal Court in Indiana Permits Inmate's Medical Claim to Move Forward

July 31, 2014

Often, an injured party must first file a claim with a state agency before being allowed to pursue the claim in court. This is known as "exhausting administrative remedies." Once that agency has reached a determination, and the injured party has had the opportunity to appeal, the injured party may decide whether to accept the agency's ruling or file a lawsuit in court. Sometimes, though, it is not always clear whether an injured party must wait for the agency action before pursuing the claim. Such was the case with Valance v. Fries.

old-melbourne-goal-1443855-m.jpgValance, a diabetic, was admitted to jail in Allen County, Indiana, as a pre-trial detainee in January 2012. At some point later, he developed sores on his feet due to the jail-issued footwear he had received. Valance claimed that the shoes were too small for him, and that the jail staff should have provided him with properly fitting footwear. He was referred to a podiatrist, who treated his sores with iodine.

However, the sores failed to heal, and by April 2014, the affected area was red and badly swollen. The swelling began in Valance's toe but later spread to the rest of his foot. His toe turned black. Valance was finally taken to a hospital, where his toe and part of his foot were amputated. After Valance was discharged from the hospital, he returned to jail, but he had to go to the emergency room after a follow-up appointment revealed inflammation and one of his other toes turning black. Valance was sent back to jail after the visit, with emergency room staffers telling jail medical staff that if the infection spread up the foot, or if the toe began to rot off, Valance must return to the emergency room. Three days later, this exact scenario occurred. Valance claimed that he alerted jail medical staff, but they refused to send him to the emergency room, instead placing him on sick call for the day. Valance eventually had to have his leg amputated below the right knee. He claimed that, had the jail medical staff acted sooner, this outcome could have been avoided.

Valance filed a lawsuit in federal court in Indiana, charging the jail staff with being reckless and deliberately indifferent to his medical issues. The jail moved to have the case dismissed under Rule 12(b)(1), lack of jurisdiction over subject matter. They argued that under Indiana's Medical Malpractice Act, Valance's claim needed to first be reviewed by a medical review panel, and an opinion issued, before Valance could pursue the claim in court.

However, the federal court disagreed that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over Valance's claim. The court noted that the claim was not for medical malpractice, but a 42 U.S.C. section 1983 claim involving denial of constitutional rights to be free of cruel and unusual punishment. Valance also pled a claim that involved a Fourteenth Amendment due process issue. As such, the court rejected the jail's argument and allowed Valance's case to move forward.

Miller & Falkner is an Indiana and Kentucky plaintiffs law firm. Located in Louisville, Kentucky, the firm provides representation in the areas of personal injury and employment law. If you need a Kentucky or Indiana personal injury attorney, contact us today for a free consultation.

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