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Suit Against Kentucky Jail Officials for Prisoner-on-Prisoner Assault Dismissed for Failure to State a Claim

On June 3, 2016, a three judge panel of the Court of Appeals of Kentucky issue a 3-0 decision affirming the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by a state prisoner who was assaulted by another prisoner and claimed that jail officials were liable for the attack. The court also affirmed the dismissal of the prisoner's claim that the jail failed to provide adequate medical care following the assault.

Scott McCallister was booked into the Crittenden County Jail on a parole violation in 2011 and housed in a cell with eight other prisoners. One of those prisoners was Matthew Young. Young had previously assaulted a Crittenden County jail guard and spent 8 months in solitary confinement for the .offense. Young was also convicted criminally for the assault on the guard. After a period of good behavior, jail officials determined that Young could safely be placed back into general population, which is where he and McCallister encountered each other.

McCallister and Young were housed in the same cell for at least two months without incident until one night when they had a dispute over the television. Young attacked McCallister, choked him, and ended up breaking his leg. Guards rushed to the scene, took Young to segregation, and. were said to have offered McCallister medical attention. McCallister said his leg hurt so bad he could not move. There were no medical personnel working at the jail at that time of night, so the guards gave McCallister ice and ibuprofen, and a blanket to place under his leg. They drug a mat to his cell because McCallister said he could not get on his bunk. It was thirteen hours before McCallister received any medical attention.

X-rays were taken the next day, which showed a broken bone in his knee. McCallister was taken to local clinic and the doctors there planned to perform surgery in two weeks’ time. McCallister's knee became so swollen that instead of going back to the jail, he was taken to the state reformatory's infirmary for medical care. By the time surgery was scheduled, McCallister was told his leg had to be re-broken due to the fact that he did not receive prompt medical attention at the time of the injury.

McCallister sued jail officials, claiming that they were responsible for his assault because they knew Young had a propensity for violence, yet allowed him to be in general population. McCallister also raised a claim of failure to receive emergency medical care in a timely manner. The Crittenden Circuit Court dismissed all of McCallister's claims on summary judgment. McCallister appealed, and the Kentucky Court of Appeals affirmed.

The appellate court rejected McCallister's claim that jail officials were responsible for Young's attack on McCallister because they knew or should have known of Young's propensity for violence. "Young's attack on the deputy jailer was irrelevant to (McCallister's) claim, and this claim must fail because" there was no evidence "that Young had attacked another inmate as a result of lack of training," the court wrote.

The court did note that the law imposes a duty upon a jailer to exercise "reasonable and ordinary care and diligence to prevent unlawful injury to a prisoner placed in his custody," but he cannot be charged with negligence in failing to prevent "what he could not reasonably anticipate.

Noting that liability ultimately depends on the particular facts of each case, "a single tragic incident involving jail personnel is not sufficient to establish a claim" for negligence, the court found.

Finally, the court affirmed the dismissal of McCallister's lack of medical care claim, finding that "none of the defendants ignored McCallister or withheld medical attention from him, but rather they relied upon and followed the advice from appropriate medical professionals," and thus McCallister failed to establish a claim for failure to provide medical care "as a matter of law." See: McCallister v. Riley, et al., Case No. 2014-CA-001286-MR (CA Ky.), June 3, 2016.

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Related legal case

McCallister v. Riley, et al.