E-Newsletter Edition: September 16, 2009
Response Provided By: Brian S. Batterton, J.D.
Always note that state law may be more restrictive on police power than the U.S. Constitution.
Is my Sheriff’s Office (Georgia) responsible for medical bills for a suspect that was injured when he was fleeing from deputies?
At the outset, it should be noted that that the answer to this question is largely dependant on state law. In Georgia, O.C.G.A. § 45-5-2(a) states
(a) Except as provided in subsection (b) of this Code section, it shall be the responsibility of the governmental unit, subdivision, or agency having the physical custody of an inmate to maintain the inmate, furnishing him food, clothing, and any needed medical and hospital attention; to defend any habeas corpus or other proceedings instituted by or on behalf of the inmate; and to bear all expenses relative to any escape and recapture, including the expenses of extradition. Except as provided in subsection (b) of this Code section, it shall be the responsibility of the department to bear the costs of any reasonable and necessary emergency medical and hospital care which is provided to any inmate after the receipt by the department of the notice provided by subsection (a) of Code Section 42-5-50 who is in the physical custody of any other political subdivision or governmental agency of this state, except a county correctional institution, if the inmate is available and eligible for the transfer of his custody to the department pursuant to Code Section 42-5-50. Except as provided in subsection (b) of this Code section, the department shall also bear the costs of any reasonable and necessary follow-up medical or hospital care rendered to any such inmate as a result of the initial emergency care and treatment of the inmate.With respect to state inmates housed in county correctional institutions, the department shall bear the costs of direct medical services required for emergency medical conditions posing an immediate threat to life or limb if the inmate cannot be placed in a state institution for the receipt of this care. The responsibility for payment will commence when the costs for direct medical services exceed an amount specified by rules and regulations of the Board of Corrections. The department will pay only the balance in excess of the specified amount. Except as provided in subsection (b) of this Code section, it shall remain the responsibility of the governmental unit having the physical custody of an inmate to bear the costs of such medical and hospital care, if the custody of the inmate has been transferred from the department pursuant to any order of any court within this state. The department shall have the authority to promulgate rules and regulations relative to payment of such medical and hospital costs by the department.
(b)(1) The officer in charge will provide an inmate access to medical services or hospital care and may arrange for the inmate’s health insurance carrier to pay the health care provider for the services or care rendered as provided in Article 3 of Chapter 4 of this title.
(2) With respect to an inmate covered under Article 3 of Chapter 4 of this title, the costs of any medical services, emergency medical and hospital care, or follow-up medical or hospital care as provided in subsection (a) of this Code section for which a local governmental unit is responsible shall mean the costs of such medical services and hospital care which have not been paid by the inmate’s health insurance carrier or the Department of Community Health.
(c) A hospital authority or hospital which is not a party to a contract with the Georgia Department of Corrections or its agents on July 1, 2009, shall be reimbursed no more than the applicable Georgia Medicaid rate for emergency services provided to such state inmate. For purposes of this subsection, the term “state inmate” means any inmate for whom the Georgia Department of Corrections shall be responsible for the payment of medical care thereof. Nothing in this Code section shall prohibit the Georgia Department of Corrections from negotiating higher fees or rates with health care providers. It is the intent of the General Assembly that the Georgia Department of Corrections or its agents enter into negotiations with health care providers to contract for the provision of services as provided in this Code section. [emphasis added]
In Cherokee County v. North Cobb Surgical Associates, P.C.i, the above statute was interpreted by the Court of Appeals of Georgia to mean that a county is liable for the medical expenses of a suspect who is injured while being taken into custody, even when the suspect is taken to the hospital due to serious injury, rather than being taken straight to jail. In this case, Cherokee County deputies were dispatched to assist the City of Canton police on call that involved a man with a knife. The suspect refused to surrender and ultimately charged a deputy with the knife in hand. At this point, the suspect was shot in the abdomen and transported to the hospital by ambulance while handcuffed to the stretcher. Deputies conducted an investigation and executed a search warrant at the suspect’s residence and at the hospital for the suspect’s blood. Cherokee County was billed, but did not pay, for the suspect’s medical bills. The hospital sued. The case was ultimately appealed to the Court of Appeals of Georgia and they held that “Cherokee County is responsible for [the suspect’s] medical care because he was injured while being taken into physical custody by the county sheriff’s department and who, but for the seriousness of his injuries, would have been placed in the county’s detention facility.”
Therefore, to answer the question presented, it is likely that the sheriff’s office would be responsible for medical expense of a suspect who is injured while fleeing from deputies, as long as the suspect is taken into custody. However, many different facts could alter this conclusion such as the existence of medical insurance or if there was an issue as to whether the suspect was actually in custody. Thus, prior to paying medical expenses, the agency at issue should seek the advice of their attorney to determine if any defenses or exceptions to the above rule apply.
i 221 Ga. App. 496 (471 S.E.2d 561) (1996)