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Alaska Prison Design Case Settles for $1 Million

In August, 2001, the state of Alaska settled a lawsuit involving faulty prison design which resulted in serious injury to a prisoner for $1,000,000. In February, 1994, Carry Johnson was returning to his cell at the Ketchikan Correctional Center in Alaska. When he reached the top of the stairs, another prisoner opened a cell door which hit Johnson and knocked him off the landing and down the stairs where he was found unconscious. Johnson was denied medical attention until family members saw him and demanded that he receive medical care. Johnson suffered serious, permanent injury to his spinal column and was later diagnosed with cauda equina syndrome. As a result, Johnson has no control over his bowel and bladder functions and is impotent.

Johnson filed suit in state court arguing that among other things, the jail was negligently designed because it did not meet state codes for landing and stairwell design. Had those state codes been followed then arguably he would not have been injured because there would have been sufficient room for the cell door to open without striking any people on the landing outside the cell. A jury agreed with Johnson and awarded him $2,400,000. The state appealed and the supreme court of Alaska reversed in part on a jury instruction issue. The court upheld that portion of the jury verdict pertaining to causation and calculation of damages. The reversal was to determine if the state was negligent in building and designing the prison. See: State of Alaska v. Johnson, 2 P.3d 56 (Alaska, 2000). [ PLN, Nov. 2001].

On remand the state settled the case for $1,000,000. Plaintiffs who are injured in "slip and fall" cases in prisons should research and consider negligent prison design theories of liability. Johnson was represented by Anchorage lawyers Marcus Clapp and Thomas Van Flien of the law firm Clapp, Peterson, Stowers. See: Johnson v. State of Alaska .

Additional Source: National Jury Verdict Review & Analysis

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Related legal case

Johnson v. State of Alaska