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Inmate’s negligence suit may continue, court rules

December 11, 2013

The Indiana Court of Appeals ordered more proceedings on a negligence lawsuit filed by an Indiana Department of Correction inmate after he fell and injured himself. In the decision, the judges also decided that prison operators are subject to liability in much the same manner as other private actors.

Inmate John Kader has difficulty lifting his right foot off the ground while walking. In September 2007, he fell while walking through the New Castle Correctional Facility and hit his head. He claimed his foot caught on an uneven floor grate. He was transferred to the hospital for treatment. The hospital recommended follow-up treatment for his head injury, which neither the Department of Correction nor The GEO Group, a private corporation which operated the prison, took action on.

Kader sued the state, DOC and GEO alleging negligent supervision, negligent installation of the floor grate and negligence in providing medical care after returning from the hospital. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of GEO.

In John Kader v. State of Indiana, Department of Correction, and The Geo Group, Inc., 33A01-1302-CT-72, the Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment for GEO on Kader’s duty of care regarding his medical treatment after leaving the hospital, finding the state and DOC have the ultimate authority over his medical treatment.

But the judges reversed summary judgment on several other matters. They found the trial court abused its discretion in striking the entirety of LaDarryl Holland’s affidavit, which Kader designated as evidentiary material in response for the motion for summary judgment filed by the defendants. Holland was the inmate clerk in charge of cleaning the hallway where the floor grate in question was located and saw Kader fall.

The trial court also found Kader’s walking without a cane or wheelchair amounted to contributory negligence, but the COA held prison operator GEO, as a private business, is not entitled to relief from liability under a contributory negligence defense. Prison operators do not merely stand in the shoes of a government body for purposes of liability at tort.

The appellate judges found the trial court’s assessment of the credibility of testimony and factual determination that Kader’s conduct was contributorily negligent because he did not use a cane or wheelchair were both in error. His claims against GEP should be treated within the scope of comparative, not contributory, negligence, Judge L. Mark Bailey wrote.
 

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