Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Deliberate Indifference Definition:

Ignoring a situation known to exist.

Related Terms: Deliberate, Deliberate Ignorance, Negligence, Harassment

The legal term is used in two areas of the law: in harassment claims and in regards to due process and the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution in regards to the rights of persons incarcerated.

In 2010, Justice Traxler of the United States Court of Appeals distinguished deliberate indifference from negligence:

"[A] claim of deliberate indifference, unlike one of negligence, ... implies at a minimum that defendants were plainly placed on notice of a danger and chose to ignore the danger notwithstanding the notice."1

In Tilton v Playboy, the plaintiff sued the defendant for use of explicit material involving a person under the age of majority. Justice Pryor of the United States Court of Appeals wrote:

"We have long recognized that the knowledge element of a statute can be proved by demonstrating either actual knowledge or deliberate ignorance. Knowledge through deliberate indifference occurs where a party acts with an awareness of the high probability of the existence of the fact in question."

In a harassment case against a school, Justice Ishii of the United States District Court adopted these words:

"A school's response amounts to deliberate indifference when it is clearly unreasonable in light of the known circumstances such that the official decision is not to remedy the violation. Deliberate indifference is a high standard and requires conduct that is beyond mere negligence....

"Deliberate indifference is a fact sensitive inquiry. Deliberate indifference must, at a minimum, cause students to undergo harassment or make them liable or vulnerable to it. Although courts have indicated that continuing to utilize the same response after it has been shown to be ineffective, or not responding at all, or utilizing a minimalist response may demonstrate deliberate indifference, a school is not deliberately indifferent simply because the response did not remedy the harassment or because the school did not utilize a particular discipline."

Prisoner's Rights

In Campbell v Johnson, the United States Court of Appeals used words which due process context of deliberate indifference:

"A ... claim of false imprisonment requires a showing of common law false imprisonment and a due process violation under the Fourteenth Amendment. The elements of common law false imprisonment are an intent to confine, an act resulting in confinement, and the victim's awareness of confinement. The Fourteenth Amendment due process clause includes the right to be free from continued detention after it was or should have been known that the detainee was entitled to release.

"To establish a due process violation, Campbell must prove that Sheriff Johnson acted with deliberate indifference. This means that Sheriff Johnson had subjective knowledge of a risk of serious harm and disregarded that risk by actions beyond mere negligence."

In a 2010 case (Mingus) resolved by the United States Court of Appeals, the Court wrote:

"[T]he inmate must demonstrate that the official acted with deliberate indifference to inmate health or safety. Under this subjective standard, a prison official cannot be found liable under the Eighth Amendment unless the official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference. Thus, the inmate must show more than negligence or the misdiagnosis of an ailment. Even though an official need not have acted for the very purpose of causing harm or with knowledge that harm will result, deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm to a prisoner is the equivalent of recklessly disregarding that risk. The question, however, is not just whether the state employee has admitted the inmate faced an excessive and imminent health risk; it is also whether circumstantial evidence, including the very fact that the risk was obvious, shows the employee must have understood the nature of the risk."

Further, these words of Justice Napoleon Jones of the United States District Court (California) in Hendon v Ramsey:

"Deliberate indifference lies somewhere between negligence and conduct engaged in for the very purposes of causing harm or with the knowledge that harm will result. To succeed on a deliberate indifference claim, a plaintiff must also demonstrate that the prison official had a sufficiently culpable state of mind. Thus, an official must: (1) be actually aware of facts from which an inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of harm exists; (2) actually draw the inference; but (3) nevertheless disregard the risk to the inmate's health."


  • Campbell v. Johnson, 586 F. 3d 835 (2009)
  • Doe ex rel. Johnson v. South Carolina Social Services, 597 F. 3d 163 (Note 1)
  • Garcia ex rel. Marin v. Clovis Unified School District, 627 F. Supp. 2d 1187 (2009)
  • Hendon v. Ramsey, 528 F. Supp. 2d 1058 (2007)
  • Mingus v. Butler, 591 F. 3d 474
  • Tilton v. Playboy Entertainment Group Inc., 554 F. 3d 1371 (2009)

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