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Inmate wins $10,000 verdict against US for prison injury

December 29, 2015

A federal inmate who cut his forearm on a jagged bed frame won a $10,000 judgment in his lawsuit against the United States.

Joseph Drake slipped and fell in his cell in the special housing unit at the Terre Haute Federal Correctional Complex while cleaning the cell floor as required of inmates. He suffered a 4-inch gash when his arm struck a “cutout” on the bunk bed frame where a prisoner had attempted to craft a weapon.

Judge Tanya Walton Pratt of the U.S. Court for the Southern District of Indiana on Tuesday ordered a $10,000 award for Drake, finding the prison knew about the jagged edge of the bed frame but did nothing to correct it. She wrote prison officials tagged beds with orange paint when cutouts were discovered but didn’t make repairs.

“The Court finds that the United States failed to act with reasonable care when it placed Mr. Drake in Cell No. 119 with the knowledge that the metal bed frame contained a sharp cutout area,” Pratt wrote. “Prison officials acknowledged that they were aware of the cutout area, but they did not deem it necessary to repair the sharp edges because the structural integrity of the bed was not threatened. The fact that the bed was not about to fall apart, however, does not negate the existence of the jagged metal edge.”

Pratt noted the government urged the court to infer a sinister motive to Drake’s claim, but the judge found “there is no evidence to support any motivation on the part of Mr. Drake other than wanting to bring more attention to the fact that many cells in the prison have bed frames that have dangerous cutouts that are marked with orange paint but not repaired, and his desire to be compensated for his injury.”

After Drake’s injury, prison staff ground the sharp edge off the bed frame at a material cost of $6, the judge noted. Drake is now housed in a federal correctional facility in Pennsylvania, according to the record.

Pratt in a footnote complimented volunteer counsel who represented Drake, Andrew L. Campbell and Haroon Anwar of Faegre Baker Daniels LLP. The case is Joseph Franklin Feferan Drake v. United States, 1:13-cv-0961.

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