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Sovereign Immunity Waived in Suicide Suit Under Vermont Tort Claims Act

The Vermont Tort Claims Act (VTCA) waives the sovereign immunity of the state of Vermont in suits challenging a prison’s failure to prevent suicide, the Supreme Court held on April 18, 1996.

The estate of Rose Ann LaPlant sued the State of Vermont after LaPlant committed suicide in 1991 while incarcerated at the Chittenden Community Correctional Center.

The state argued that it was immune from the suit because Vermont case law requires suits under the VCTA to be based on a “comparable” cause of action against a private citizen. Since there was no “comparable” cause of action against a private citizen for the operation of a jail/prison, a uniquely governmental function, the state argued that it was immune.

The Supreme Court of Vermont disagreed, writing that the State had, “over [sic] narrow[ly]” construed the estate’s claim. “Plaintiffs’ complaint does not arise out of LaPlant’s arrest or imprisonment, but out of defendants’ alleged failure to provide for her safely while she was in custody.” In that regard, the court wrote, “the State’s obligation to LaPlant was analogous to that of a private institution with custody over a person at risk of suicide.”

See: Herbert v. Vermont, 679 A. 2d. 887 (1996).

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Related legal case

Herbert v. Vermont