By J. Matthew Little, Esq., Teague Campbell Dennis Gorham, LLP
In recent years, the Defense Bar has seen historic numbers of pro se prisoner filings. Along with this increase is a new litigation trend that involves coupling traditional medical malpractice claims under Chapter 90 of the North Carolina General Statutes with Federal civil rights claims under 42 USC Section 1983. Given the cap on non-economic damages in Chapter 90 and North Carolina’s broad denial of attorneys’ fees recovery for prevailing parties, plaintiffs have weaponized Section 1983. Unlike Chapter 90, this section does not impose a damages cap and, when paired with a claim under 42 USC § 1988, allows for the recovery of attorneys’ fees–thus resulting in potentially much greater damages awards for aggrieved plaintiffs who have been able to retain counsel.
Although litigants have recently relied upon Section 1983 in cases of alleged excessive use of force by law enforcement, defense attorneys are increasingly seeing it used in cases filed against jail medical staff. Specifically, inmates have used Section 1983 as a cudgel against medical providers within the prison system, claiming violations under the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
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