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$2 Million Award in Maryland Prisoner’s Work Crew Death

A jury in Prince George’s County, Maryland found that state prison and highway officials and the driver of a private dump truck were liable in an accident that killed a prisoner who was picking up trash on the side of the Capitol Beltway. The jury awarded $2.025 million to the prisoner’s family, later reduced to $1.37 million.

Prisoner Rodney Jennings, 20, was struck by the dump truck on August 23, 2007 while on a prison work detail from the Herman L. Toulson Boot Camp. After Jennings and two other prisoners finished picking up litter, they were making their way from the left shoulder of the southbound exit ramp to the right shoulder.

As they attempted to cross the ramp, Jennings was hit by the 39-ton dump truck, which was reportedly over the legal weight limit and had inadequately adjusted brakes. His legs were crushed and he was conscious and in severe pain for 45 minutes before he died, said Joseph T. Mallon, Jr., the attorney representing Jennings’ family.

Testimony showed that the truck’s driver, Wayne H. Gross, Jr., was driving faster than the posted 40 mph speed limit and that he improperly crossed a solid white line while speeding up to pass a tractor-trailer just before he struck Jennings.

The lawsuit alleged that a prison guard mistakenly believed a state highway dump truck was blocking incoming traffic to the ramp. It also stated the warning signs to indicate the presence of the prison work crew were inadequate.

“It was a completely avoidable accident, had either defendant acted in a reasonable manner,” said Mallon. Prison officials agreed it was a terrible tragedy and changed their policy to require that prisoners be driven across ramps and similar areas rather than crossing on foot.

Maryland law caps many non-economic civil damage awards, and the jury award was reduced to a total of $1.37 million – $350,000 for the wrongful death claim plus $1,020,000 to Jennings’ surviving family members, including his four children.

“I’m relieved for the family,” said Mallon. “Although they’ll never have closure, this provides some measure of peace.” Jennings was serving a two-year sentence for drug distribution at the time he was killed. See: Davis v. Goss, Circuit Court for Prince George’s County (MD), Case No. 08-21989.

Additional source: Washington Post

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Related legal case

Davis v. Goss