The case narrowly construed Section 845.6 of the California Government Tort Claims Act, which sets out when a public entity will be liable for insufficient medical care. The case is one of several lawsuits arising from the shockingly tragic death of Francisco Castaneda, who died from penile cancer after state and federal prisons failed to diagnose and treat it.
Government Code Section 845.6 says that jail and prison guards are immune from liability for state tort claims for injuries caused by their failure to furnish or obtain medical care for an inmate. However, Section 845.6 provides a small window of liability if a guard knows the inmate is in need of immediate medical care and "fails to take reasonable action to summon such medical care."
In Castaneda v. Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the Second Appellate District construed Section 845.6 narrowly and in so doing immunized government officials from liability for not doing more to help Mr. Castaneda.
In Castaneda's case, prison officials had diagnosed the lesion and referred Castaneda for a biopsy. But the biopsy was never performed. The Court decided that because the biopsy had been ordered (even though not performed), medical care had been "summoned" and prison officials were off the hook for the resulting medical neglect.
State tort suits are different from Section 1983 lawsuits and an inmate may have more chance for recovery for medical neglect amounting to "deliberate indifference" under federal civil rights laws.