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Request By:

John S. Smith, Esq.
City Attorney of Lebanon
Lebanon, Kentucky 40033


Opinion By: Robert F. Stephens, Attorney General; By: Thomas R. Emerson, Assistant Attorney General

This is in reply to your letters raising several questions concerning the city's responsibility for medical expenses of prisoners under various circumstances. Lebanon is a fourth class city and its prisoners are lodged in the Marion County Jail. You state that the first responsibility for the payment of such expenses rests with the prisoner himself but in many instances the prisoner is unable to pay those expenses.

Your first question involves the city's responsibility for medical or dental treatment rendered after the prisoner is lodged in the county jail but the treatment is for a medical or dental problem which did not arise out of the arrest. Your second question involves treatment rendered for injuries sustained by the prisoner prior to arrest and which were not inflicted in connection with the arrest. Your final question concerns the city's responsibility for furnishing medical treatment for an injury inflicted by a city police officer in effecting a lawful arrest.

We initially direct your attention to OAG 75-51, copy enclosed, where we said in part as follows:

"If the prisoner is not indigent, he should pay the bill. If he is indigent, then the county of his residence has the primary responsibility for paying it, although the city of his residence has joint responsibility in such payment. City of Richmond v. Madison County Fiscal Court, 290 Ky. 293, 161 S.W.2d 58 (1942); and City of Paducah v. McCracken County, 305 Ky. 539, 204 S.W.2d 942 (1947). The courts have never spelled out exactly just what portion of such bills the city should pay in the indigency situation. We can only suggest that the city and county get together and agree on the joint payment of the bill on some equitable basis. . . ."

Furthermore, in OAG 74-826, copy enclosed, we said "The responsibility for paying the medical expenses of an indigent prisoner in the county jail is not dependent upon when the disease originated or whether the expenses arose out of an injury incurred during imprisonment." In addition, in OAG 75-67, copy enclosed, we said:

". . . [I]t makes no difference whether his illness is related to his arrest or confinement or not. It is sufficient if the prisoner actually needs medical attention and treatment, regardless of the circumstances. It would not be legal for a police judge to merely order him removed from confinement in order to eliminate the possibility of having to pay his medical bills. Where he is released from confinement as a matter of statutory provision, then any liability from that time on would cease . . . ."

We direct your attention to two additional opinions dealing with the subject matter of your inquiry, OAG's 74-494 and 74-321, copies enclosed. Note particularly the latter opinion, at page two, where we said:

"Under the two cases cited above, the critical factors to be measured against the principle enunciated therein, are: (1) The fact of indigency or no indigency; (2) The fact of residency in the county and city; (3) The fact of whether the medical services were reasonably necessary under the circumstances. In the latter connection, the county jailer is charged with the duty of treating county prisoners humanely. KRS 71.040. While the affirmative duty of the jailer to initiate medical relief is not clearly made out in the statutes, it is our opinion that he has to make a good judgment in a particular situation such as this as to whether the seeking of medical attention for a prisoner is reasonably necessary. This is not a medical judgment. This is the judgment of the custodian of the prisoners. . . ."

The Sunshine Law Library is not exhaustive and may contain errors from source documents or the import process. Nothing on this website should be taken as legal advice. It is always best to consult with primary sources and appropriate counsel before taking any action.
Lexis Citation:
1977 Ky. AG LEXIS 776
Cites (Untracked):
  • OAG 74-826

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