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Private Jail Contractor’s Insurance Excludes Coverage of Detainee’s Death

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that an insurance company is not required to defend or indemnify a private prison contractor in the death of a pretrial detainee at a Texas jail.

Mario Garcia was confined at the Brooks County Detention Center, operated by LCS Corrections Services, Inc. (LCS). He was taking high doses of benzodiazepine prescribed by his personal physician when he was booked into the jail, and it was alleged he died because LCS staff refused to provide him with additional doses of that medication.

Garcia’s estate filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaint alleging constitutional violations and state law medical malpractice claims. The federal district court allowed only the medical malpractice claims to go to trial, which resulted in a $2.25 million verdict. [See: PLN, April 2014, p.16]. Following that verdict, the district court allowed the § 1983 claim to proceed, which alleged “LCS’s policy of refusing to administer certain medications to inmates constituted deliberate indifference to Garcia’s serious medical needs.”

LCS then initiated a separate action in another district court seeking a declaration that Lexington Insurance Company was required to defend and indemnify LCS in the underlying § 1983 lawsuit. At issue were two insurance policies: a Commercial General Liability (CGL) policy and a Commercial Umbrella Liability (CUL) policy. The district court found a duty to defend under the CGL policy without reaching the indemnification issue, and no duty to defend or indemnify under the CUL policy.

On appeal, the Fifth Circuit found that both policies had exclusions; at issue was the CUL’s “professional liability” exclusion and the “medical services” exclusion in the CGL. Such exclusions were strictly applied.

The appellate court concluded that Lexington was not required to defend LCS under subpart (a) of the CGL, which excluded coverage for “medical, surgical, dental, or nursing treatment.” LCS contended that Garcia’s death was due to none of those factors, but rather to an administrative policy of not providing certain medications to prisoners.

“Garcia’s death ... was caused by a failure to provide benzodiazepines to him,” and “providing and administering medicine to an inmate in a prison is a medical service, which LCS failed to render, for whatever reasons,” the Fifth Circuit wrote in holding that Lexington owed “no duty to defend LCS under the CGL policy.” It followed that the insurance company had no duty to indemnify LCS, either.

Turning to the professional liability exclusion in the CUL policy, the Court of Appeals found that “LCS failed to provide a professional service by not providing medications to inmates, and thus comes within the specified conduct excluded from coverage.”

As such, the district court’s order was affirmed in part and reversed in part with instructions to enter judgment for Lexington on remand. While the case was pending, LCS Corrections Services was acquired in January 2015 by The GEO Group. See: LCS Corrections Services v. Lexington Insurance Company, 800 F.3d 664 (5th Cir. 2015). 

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Related legal case

LCS Corrections Services v. Lexington Insurance Company