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Failure to Provide Hearing Aid Batteries is Deliberate Indifference to Serious Medical Need

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals held a prisoner who suffers from substantial hearing loss that may be remediated by a hearing aid may state claim for deliberate indifference to a serious medical need if prison officials on notice intentionally ignores the untreated condition.  The court, however, held that prior to this case the matter was not clearly established in law, entitling the defendants to qualified immunity.

Upon entering Florida’s Wakulla County Jail to make a 20 month stay in 2003 and 2004, Kenneth Weinberg informed he suffered hearing loss that required hearing aids.  On several occasions, Weinberg made request for hearing aid batteries.  Lt. Pam Hodges and Sgt. Donald Newsome denied the requests, stating, “we do not supply hearing aid batteries.”

Weinberg filed a pro se civil rights action against Hodges and Newsome, alleging they were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical need.  The district court granted them summary judgment.

The Eleventh Circuit found the “ability to hear is a basic human need materially affecting daily activity and a substantial hearing impairment plainly requires medical treatment by a physician.”  It cautioned that “[n]ot all hearing loss is a serious need, not all hearing loss creates a substantial risk of harm, not all hearing loss can be remediated by a hearing aid, and not all officials will know of an inmate’s condition or its extent.”

While the defendants in this case were aware of the condition and their failure to act would be enough to take the case t o a jury, it was never held that hearing loss that could be remedied by a hearing aid is a serious medical need “by The Supreme Court, This Court, or The Florida Supreme Court.”  As such, the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity and the district court’s order was affirmed.  See: Gilmore v. Hodges, 738 F.3d 266 (11th Cir. 2013).

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Related legal case

Gilmore v. Hodges