Liability For Inmate Attacks Under New York Law
A common question which our New York City police misconduct attorneys hear is when can a state prison such as downstate or Sing, Sing, Fishkill or a local correctional facility like the Westchester County jail or Rikers Island in New York City be held liable for personal injuries cased when one inmate assaults another. Another common question our Westchester police misconduct attorneys hear is what do I have to do to sue for an injury I got from an assault in jail.
Technically, the prisons or correctional facilities are divisions of either the State or the local municipalities. For example, New York State facilities like Sing Sing in Ossining are owned and operated by the State and must be brought in the Court of Claims, which has a strict claim filing requirement. For local correctional facilities such as Rikers Island, the barge, Manhattan House of Detention (the Tombs) or Bronx House of Detention, which are operated by New York City, a notice of claim must be filed within 90 days of the injury with the City Of New York. New York Corporation Counsel at 100 Church Street in New York accepts these notices of claims. For personal injuries that occur in the Westchester County Jail in Valhalla, the County of Westchester is responsible and the notice of claim must be filed with the Westchester County Attorney’s office at 148 Martine Avenue in White Plains.
The County or State is not responsible for every injury that occurs in a New York State or local correctional facility. Under New York State law, a correctional facility is required to use reasonable care to protect inmates from foreseeable risks of harm, including the risk of assault by other inmates. However, not every assault from a fellow inmate renders the County or State liable for the injuries. A municipality’s duty to prisoners does not require constant surveillance under all circumstances, and the government is not an insurer of the safety of its inmates. Rather, the facilities are only required to use reasonable care and the risk of harm must be foreseeable. In the case of an inmate assault, to hold the City, County or State liable, the injured inmate must prove that the assault was reasonably foreseeable.
To establish liability in an inmate assault case, the injured inmate must prove that the facility knew or should have known that inmate was at risk of being assaulted but failed to provide the inmate with reasonable protection. The injured inmate must also prove that the State knew or should have known that the attacker was prone to perpetrating such an assault and the facility did not take proper precautionary measures, or that the facility had knew about the danger and had an opportunity to intervene but did not act. The fact that a correction officer is not present at the time and place of an assault does not establish negligence unless the injured inmate can prove that the correctional facility officials had notice of a foreseeable dangerous situation and failed to take reasonable precautions to protect the inmate.