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Private Prison Company Not Liable for Guard's Death in Riot

Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) successfully moved in federal court to dismiss a suit brought by the survivors of a guard who was killed by prisoners during a riot in 2012.

On May 20, 2012, prisoners rioted at the Adams County Corrections Center (ACCC) in Mississippi. According to court records, prisoners at ACCC were treated inhumanely and were deprived of basic needs. This created a "dangerous atmosphere" at the short-handed private prison, according to the lawsuit filed by the family of Catlin Carithers, the guard who was killed during the riot.

Carithers was apparently on a "hit list" of guards to be harmed during the riot. Two days before the riot, an informant warned prison staff that Carithers was on the "hit list," according to the complaint.

But on the day of the riot, Carithers was not at work. He was called in to work by a security officer who knew Carithers was on the "hit list," according to the lawsuit.

Shortly after he arrived at work on May 20, 2012, Carithers was killed in the riot.

His survivors sued CCA, claiming CCA was liable for Carithers' death by creating the dangerous environment at ACCC, not hiring enough staff, mistreating prisoners, not telling Carithers he was on the "hit list," and fraudulent concealment.

CCA moved to dismiss, because "inmates, not the defendant, battered Carithers," and that Mississippi law provides the sole means of recovery from a third party for the willful conduct of another.

The court found that in order for the plaintiffs to succeed on their federal claims, they must allege and prove that CCA "acted with actual intent to injure" Carithers "with full knowledge" that Carithers would be injured.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi agreed with CCA's position and dismissed the lawsuit. The court found that plaintiffs’ claims were covered by the Mississippi Workers Compensation Act because Carithers' death was caused by the willful conduct of a third party.

"Prisoners, not the defendants, killed Carithers, and that is the crucial factor in the worker's compensation exclusivity analysis. Would-be guards are free to take, or not to take, the job with the offered salary, degree of safety, and compensation for injury that the job entails," the court wrote.

Finding that plaintiffs alleged, "at most, gross negligence," the court held that the complaint failed to state a cognizable federal claim "and should be dismissed." See: Carithers, et al., v. CCA of Tennessee, et al., No. 5:13-cv-66(DCB)(MTP) (U.S.D.C. S.D. MS 12/08/2014).

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Related legal case

Carithers, et al., v. CCA of Tennessee, et al.