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Can prison inmates sue for damages after bus-train crash?

When a person is convicted of breaking the law and sent to prison, they forfeit their rights, correct? Not all of them. Yes, they lose their liberty for the period they are behind bars. And, as information from FindLaw explains, they have to abide by the lawful rules that authorities may impose for maintaining order, security and discipline. And in 1996, Congress saw fit to enact the Prison Litigation Reform Act.

The use of the word reform might suggest that something was done to improve access of inmates to legal remedies through civil action, but critics say the PLRA represents the opposite because it only allows lawsuits after all internal prison grievance steps have been exhausted. It also requires that a suing inmate file his or her own court filing fees.

They can sue for emotional or mental injury, but only if they can also show they've suffered physical injury. And suits deemed frivolous, malicious or improper can be thrown out by the court.

Texas readers may be wondering what prompts this post. It's the recent horrible accident near Odessa earlier this month that reportedly left 10 people killed and five others injured. Twelve of the those killed or injured in the accident were inmates who were being transported by bus from Abilene to El Paso. The other victims were all guards.

The official report on what happened says that the bus hit a patch of ice on a bridge. It then plunged down an embankment and struck a passing freight train and was turned into a crumpled mess.

If an investigation should find that the driver of the bus failed to exercise appropriate caution for the road conditions at the time, it might be that claims for damages and compensation could be made -- not just by the inmates, but by the injured corrections officials, as well.

The point is that everyone has rights. But they can only be exercised if you know they exist and what the law requires.

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