Jail Guard Entitled to Qualified Immunity Relating to Injuries Caused by Escaped Inmate

October 22, 2019

A county correctional officer was sued by hospital patients who claimed they suffered from PTSD as a result of an inmate who escaped the officer’s custody while the officer was guarding the inmate following a surgery at the hospital. The officer had unshackled the inmate so he could use the bathroom. When the inmate emerged from the bathroom, he jumped the officer, took his gun, ran down the hall and eventually took a nurse hostage and sexually assaulted her. The two plaintiff hospital patients were on the same floor as the incident and either heard the commotion or saw the police response.

The district court denied the officer’s motion to dismiss based on qualified immunity, but the Seventh Circuit Appellate Court reversed. The court held that the government does not owe a duty to protect members of the public from harm caused by third parties (here, the inmate) unless the government itself created the danger. The case law relating to this so-called “state created danger” exception to non-liability was not clearly established and therefore the correctional officer would have known that his conduct violated the plaintiffs’ substantive due process rights.

The officer was represented by Mike Bersani and David Mathues.

Weiland v. Loomis, 938 F.3d 917 (7th Cir. 2019)

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