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Wexford Health Sources and Civil Rights (1983) Liability

Wexford Health Sources is a private company which has contracted with the State of Illinois to provide medical services to individuals confined in the Illinois Department of Corrections. According to their website, Wexford provides medical services to over 270 correctional institutions across 13 states including Illinois.

42 U.S.C. 1983

42 U.S.C. 1983 provides a cause of action (the ability to bring a lawsuit) against an individual, entity or municipality who violates an individual’s civil rights. The law states:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable. For the purposes of this section, any Act of Congress applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia shall be considered to be a statute of the District of Columbia.

In terms of prison healthcare, most lawsuits are brought under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. In order to prevail on a claim under the Eighth Amendment, an individual must demonstrate that the defendant (prison doctor, nurse, and/or correctional staff) acted with deliberate indifference to a serious medical need.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has defined “Deliberate Indifference” as:

The Defendant actually knew of a substantial risk of serious harm and the Defendant consciously disregarded the risk by failing to take reasonable measures to deal with it. See: Seventh Circuit of Appeals Pattern Jury Instruction 7.14.

In addition, the Seventh Circuit has defined a “serious medical need” as:

A condition that a doctor says requires treatment, or something that is so obvious that a person who is not a doctor would recognize it as requiring treatment.See: Seventh Circuit of Appeals Pattern Jury Instruction 7.13.

When determining whether an inmate had a “serious medical need,” the Court has instructed the jury to look at the following factors:

  • The severity of the condition;
  • The harm (including pain and suffering) that could result from a lack of medical care;
  • Whether providing medical care was feasible;and
  • The actual harm caused by the lack of medical care.

 Acting Under Color of State Law

In West v. Atkins, 487 U,S, 42 (1988), the United States Supreme Court was presented with the issue of whether a private physician who was under contract to provide medical services at a correctional facility on a part time basis could be sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The trial court granted the defendant doctor’s motion for summary judgment finding that since the doctor was a “contract physician,” he was not “acting under the color of law” which is a jurisdictional requirement for a 1983 lawsuit.

Ultimately, the United States Supreme Court found that a physician who is under contract to provide medical services to prisoners at a state-prison hospital on a part time basis acts “under the color of law” purposes of 1983.

The Seventh Circuit has held that Wexford Health Sources is a state actor for purposes of 1983 litigation. Thus, if your loved one has died due to the lack of medical care of a Wexford employee or from the action or inaction of Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) staff, contact our civil rights lawyers today at (217) 414-8889

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