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$154,000 Awarded to Hawaii Prisoner Injured by Jumping from Bunk Bed Without Ladder And Exposed to ETS

Hawaii’s First Circuit Court has awarded a prisoner $153,652.73 in a negligence lawsuit. The prisoner’s claims arise from the failure to provide ladders on bunk beds and failure to enforce a non-smoking ban, causing the prisoner injury.

The action was brought by Rodney Herbert, a prisoner at Halawa Correctional Facility (HCF), for injuries that occurred in 2004. On September 19, Herbert and other prisoners were ordered to exit their beds and stand for count. Because his upper bunk did not have a ladder, Herbert grabbed the bunk’s upper railing and jumped down.

Upon landing on the floor, Herbert heard a pop in his foot. While he saw a nurse that day, x-rays were not taken until September 22. A doctor did not see Herbert until October 5, and his referral to see a surgeon did not result in surgery until October 20. Herbert’s complaint said there were at least 20 such prior, substantially similar accidents at HCF.

The court held that without ladders, there was no reasonable means of exiting the bunk beds. It was “unreasonably dangerous to exit from the top bunk” by prisoner’s usual means of their “legs over the side and jumping down to the floor while grasping the upper rail.”

Herbert’s injury left him with a scar several inches long on his right foot, a limp, and pain. The Court also held the delay in care caused added pain. It found a “fair and appropriate award for pain and suffering legally caused by the state’s negligence in failing to provide ladders and to respond to a series of bunk bed incidents” is $75,000. As for future medical costs, the Court awarded Herbert $10,000 for additional surgery, $1,000 for physical therapy, $750 for referral to a pain specialist, and $600 for medication for one year. Herbert was also awarded $25,000 for lost income.

The Court also found HCF was negligent in failing to enforce its no-smoking policy, which caused Herbert asthma attacks over a year’s period. The Court awarded him $5,000 on that count. All awards were based upon a negligence theory, and the Court rejected a product liability claim that the bunk beds were defective.

The Court’s July 27, 2007, judgment also awarded Herbert $15,000 in lawyer’s fees and $21,302.73 in costs. The total award was $153,625.73 See: Herbert v. Hawaii, First Circuit Court of Hawaii, Civil Case No. 060818.

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Related legal case

Herbert v. Hawaii