$21 Million Wrongful Death Suit for Murder of Inmate on Prison Bus Is Going to Trial

A lawsuit against the state of Maryland and various state departments, state officials, and state employees may proceed to trial according to a ruling by Baltimore City Circuit Judge Sylvester B. Cox. The trial is scheduled to begin October 11, 2011. At issue is whether state officials and employees were negligent in failing to prevent the murder of one inmate by another on a prison bus.

In the early morning of February 2, 2005, a prison bus was transferring 36 inmates from a prison in Hagerstown to a facility in Baltimore. Five corrections officers were also passengers on the bus. As the bus traveled on Interstate 70, inmate Kevin Johns attacked and murdered fellow inmate Phillip E. Parker, Jr. by slashing his neck with a razor blade and strangling him. Parker died about ten minutes after the bus reached its destination.

Johns was convicted of Parker’s murder but was held not criminally liable because of mental illness. Johns already had two prior murder convictions. He committed suicide in prison in 2009.

This Maryland Accident Law Blog reported in May 2006 on the wrongful death lawsuit filed by Parker’s parents, Melissa Rodriguez and Philip E. Parker Sr., against the state, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, the corrections officers on the bus and the bus driver, and other related state agencies. The lawsuit alleges that corrections officers did nothing to intervene in or prevent the attack, even though two officers were seating a few feet behind the two inmates. The officers were allegedly watching videotapes or listening to music and eating when the attack occurred. The plaintiffs’ attorney claims to have evidence that Parker lay dying for 10 minutes with no one trying CPR, as well as evidence that the officers had insufficient training for such situations. The suit seeks $21 million in damages, as well as punitive damages.

The Maryland attorney general’s office asked the court to dismiss plaintiffs’ claims, arguing that the officers had no knowledge of a specific threat against Parker, and that they therefore cannot be held liable for what occurred. Judge Cox disagreed, holding that “it can be reasonably inferred in this case that the officers were, at a minimum, negligent.” Judge Cox’s order denying the state’s motion to dismiss means that the lawsuit may now proceed to trial. The plaintiffs will have to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendants are legally liable for Parker’s death.

This case is based on a theory of negligence, specifically that the defendant officers negligently failed in their duty to protect Parker from attack by Johns. A negligence claim has four components that plaintiffs must prove: (1) that defendants owed a duty of care to Parker, (2) that they breached this duty, (3) that this breach caused Parker’s death, and (4) that the plaintiffs have suffered damage as a result. The “preponderance of evidence” standard means that plaintiffs must convince the jury that it is more likely than not (i.e. 51% likely) that the defendants were negligent.

The Maryland accident attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen represent estates and family members in wrongful death claims for deaths caused by negligence. Contact the firm today for a free and confidential consultation.

Web Resources:

Know Your Rights: The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), American Civil Liberties Union, December 9, 2009
Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services homepage

More Blog Posts:

$5M Baltimore Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed Against Man Convicted of Involuntary Manslaughter in 2008 Inner Harbor Drowning, Maryland Accident Law Blog, August 30, 2011
$10M Montgomery County Wrongful Death Lawsuit Accuses Police of Excessive Use of Force, Maryland Accident Law Blog, March 29, 2011
$10 Million Maryland Wrongful Death Lawsuit Blames Baltimore County Police for Taser Fatality, Maryland Accident Law Blog, March 12, 2010

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