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Montana State and County Officials May be Liable for Injuries Caused by Private Prisoner Transport Company

The State of Montana and Montana counties may be held liable for mistreatment and injuries caused by private prisoner transportation companies, the Supreme Court of Montana held.
Jaydon Paull was arrested in 2003 by Florida officials after Montana authorities issued a warrant for his arrest due to a probation violation. American Extraditions Int’l (AEI), a private prisoner transport service, was hired by the Park County Sheriff’s Office to return Paull to Montana.

The trip from Florida to Montana did not go well. Over the course of nine days, Paull and other prisoners were alleg-edly denied sufficient rest stops to use the bathroom. As a result, some prisoners defecated and urinated on themselves.

On March 3, 2003 the driver lost control of the transport vehicle; the van rolled several times, finally resting on its top. Another AEI employee was killed while Paull reportedly was injured.
The accident occurred after the AEI driver refused to give the prisoners a bathroom break. The driver, according to Paull’s lawsuit, told him and the other prisoners to urinate into plastic cups or water bottles. While the prisoners were uri-nating, the driver started swerving the van in an apparent effort to cause the prisoners to spill urine on themselves. The driver lost control, however, resulting in the fatal accident.

AEI was not insured and went out of business, leaving potential claimants with virtually no recourse. Paull sued Park County and the State of Montana, alleging they were liable for his injuries. The county and state argued that they had no duty to Paull and were not AEI’s agent when he was transported from Florida.

The Supreme Court of Montana disagreed. While “a contractor is not liable for every tort by an independent subcon-tractor,” the Court wrote, “torts which arise from risks caused by engaging in such dangerous activity” are actionable. In this case, “the risk of driver misconduct was an inherent danger in the transportation of prisoners, which is inherently dan-gerous work.” As such, the Supreme Court concluded that the county may be subject to “vicarious liability for the acts or omissions of its contractor, AEI.”

Likewise, the Court concluded “the State had a duty to exercise ordinary care in returning Paull to Montana to answer its probation revocation proceeding.” Therefore, “if the State chooses to transport prisoners by allowing other entities to do the work, it may be held liable for the tortious acts or omissions of its agents in undertaking the transportation.” See: Paull v. Park County, 352 Mont. 465, 218 P.3d 1198 (Mont. 2009), rehearing denied.

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Related legal case

Paull v. Park County