Does a disagreement over medical treatment of a prisoner support a civil rights claim?
Typically, the mere disagreement among medical providers with regard to prisoner medical care does not support a civil rights claim. However, in some circumstances, such a claim can be found.
Earlier this month, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Zaya v. Sood, No. 15-1470, that a prison physician was not entitled to summary judgment in his favor because there was evidence that he disregarded (rather than merely disagreed with) a potential course of treatment. The case involved an inmate, Joni Zaya, who broke his wrist while detained at the Henry Hill Correctional Center. The prison physician, Dr. Kul Sood, sent Zaya to an off-site orthopedic surgeon who took x-rays, fitted Zaya with a cast, and sent him back to the prison with instructions that he return in three weeks for a follow-up exam and additional x-rays. Dr. Sood, however, did not follow those instructions. He instead waited seven weeks to send Zaya back to the orthopedic surgeon. In the interim, Zaya’s wrist had healed at an improper angle and two surgeries were required to repair the defect. Zaya presented evidence from an expert witness who opined that Dr. Sood’s actions were unreasonable and deviated from the standard of care.
Relying on the expert physician’s opinion and the orthopedic surgeon’s instructions, the Appellate Court concluded that a jury could find that Dr. Sood disregarded a qualified medical opinion regarding the proper course of treatment and thus acted deliberately indifferent to Zaya’s broken wrist. The Appellate Court reversed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Dr. Sood and remanded the case for trial.