A convicted Colombo family mobster has recently made headlines from prison. This time, he’s not the defendant in a criminal trial, but the plaintiff in a civil case stemming from a slip and fall accident that occurred while he was awaiting sentencing at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.
Thomas Gioeli, also known by the street name Tommy Shots, was convicted of three counts of conspiracy to commit murder in May 2012. In August 2013, he was playing a game of ping-pong with a fellow inmate when he slipped and fell on a puddle of water near the showers, breaking his kneecap, landing him in the hospital for 30 days, and requiring extensive surgery. Now, he’s suing the federal government for $10 million – alleging that the prison was negligent for allowing the puddle issue to go unattended. So does he have a case?
Gioeli Claims The Prison Was Negligent
According to Gioeli, this accident occurred due to negligent prison staff members. The former mobster claims that a leaking sink in the showers near the ping-pong tables was to blame for the puddle that he slipped in, causing his injuries.
Gioeli claims to have repeatedly notified prison officials about the puddling, which had allegedly been an issue for months. Prison orderly Sharif Stewart testified that he had to clean up the puddle twice per day and that he had complained to three different prison staffers at least 5-10 times about the slippery area and leaking sink.
Gioeli’s lawyer has argued that prison officials are negligent not only for failing to clean up the puddle but also for placing the ping-pong table near it.
Reasonable Care And Negligence In Correctional Facilities
Just like business and property owners, prison and jail officials have a legal duty of reasonable care. This means that they must do all that they can to keep inmates safe and to make sure there are no preventable hazards which could lead to an inmate injury or death.
When a correctional facility employee violates this duty of reasonable care and an inmate gets injured as a result, that inmate has the right to file a tort claim seeking financial compensation.
Gioeli and his lawyer are arguing that the prison violated their duty of care because they had been notified several times about the slippery conditions that lead to his fall, but did nothing to correct the hazardous condition. Additionally, they allege that the prison was negligent for placing a ping-pong table near this hazardous condition.
Government Lawyers Claim Prison Exercised Reasonable Care
Defense lawyers for the government used Croc-like plastic clogs as a piece of evidence in their argument during the trial. These shoes are worn by all 120 inmates in the facility, and they argued that water pools in them, which may have caused the puddle that Gioeli slipped in.
How Can Inmates Sue For Personal Injuries?
When someone gets injured in an accident caused by another person’s negligence, that injury victim often has a case for a personal injury lawsuit against the person responsible for causing the accident. For private citizens outside of prison, this usually means filing a claim with the negligent party’s insurance company. However, inmates have a different process.
Suing Under The Federal Tort Claims Act
Inmates in federal prisons and jails, like the Metropolitan Detention Center where Gioeli was being held, have the option to file a Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) claim against the federal government. The claim Gioeli filed is an example of a Federal Tort Claims Act case.
Out in society, injury victims can directly sue the person responsible for causing their injuries if that person does not have insurance. But in jails and prisons, inmates do not have the right to directly sue employees they believe are responsible for their injuries. Instead, they must file a notice of claim and intent to seek damages from the federal government.
From here, the Justice Department has six months to respond to the injury claim. If they admit to fault, the inmate is paid right away. However, this is exceedingly rare. Claims are usually denied – and inmates have six months to hire an attorney and file a lawsuit after being issued this denial.
Damages In A Prison Personal Injury Lawsuit
In most personal injury cases, this financial compensation is awarded for damages related to the accident, such as medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, etc. However, inmates are not charged for medical treatment and other medical expenses. These inmates also only make a few dollars per day, so lost wages are not a significant damage. Instead, an inmate personal injury lawsuit usually focuses on expenses like future medical bills and out-of-pocket expenses expected after their release, future lost wages, and pain and suffering.
The plaintiff in a prison personal injury case will need to prove three things:
- The correctional facility violated their duty of care
- How this violation occurred
- That this violation directly caused their injuries
In Gioeli case, the general claim is that the Metropolitan Detention Center was negligent because they failed to fix a hazardous condition (puddles) that they were aware existed, which eventually lead to Gioeli slipping, falling, and breaking his kneecap.
My Family Member Was Injured In A Prison Accident – What Should I Do?
If you have a friend or loved one who was injured in a prison accident that you believe was preventable, it’s important to be aware of their legal rights. Inmates, like private citizens, have a right to go about their daily routine without being exposed to unnecessary risks due to the negligence of others. It’s important to hold these institutions liable when they violate this right by allowing dangerous conditions to exist and an inmate gets injured as a result.
Slip and fall cases are complex in general, but even more so when the accident occurs in a prison or other government property. Your loved one will need to file an injury claim either through the Federal or State Tort Claims Act. Additionally, he or she will be going up against powerful government lawyers who have plenty of resources and who specialize in denying injury claims.
This is why it’s important to have your own seasoned personal injury lawyer who understands how to prove negligence in court. If you’re thinking about taking legal action for a prison injury, our Philadelphia slip and fall lawyers can help you better understand your legal options – just get in touch with us today to learn more in a free consultation.