Is the County Liable for an Escaped Inmate Who Injures Someone?

Is the County Liable for an Escaped Inmate Who Injures Someone?

As a Los Angeles accident lawyer, I try to keep abreast of developments in California tort law and related issues.

I was recently asked whether a County can be held liable when an inmate escapes from County jail, and subsequently injures someone.

It’s a question that’s being thrown around in the news lately with the case of Long Hoang Ma.

Mr. Ma, if you don’t know, was the taxi driver who was abducted by three escaped Orange County jail inmates back in January.

The inmates kidnapped Mr. Ma at knifepoint, forcing him to drive to Northern California.  At one point, they threatened to kill him.

Ma is suing Orange County for negligence in allowing the inmates to escape from County jail.  The County has also refused to pay Mr. Ma his share of the $150,000 reward money in the case, even though he was instrumental in helping the authorities capture the inmates.

The Government Code and a California Supreme Court case are likely standing in Mr. Ma’s way of recovering damages.

Government Code Section 845.8 says “Neither a public entity nor a public employee are liable for. .  . any injury caused by an escaping or escaped prisoner.”

In 1972, the California Supreme Court affirmed the validity of this Code section in the case of County of Sacramento v. Superior Court of Sacramento (8 Cal.3d 479).

The case involved an escaped inmate who murdered a homeowner during a burglary.  The Court held that the County jail that negligently allowed the inmate to escape through an unlocked door could not be held liable for the inmate’s subsequent killing spree.

Mr. Ma’s case is definitely a heartbreaker, and I’ll continue to monitor developments in the case.

Remember that claims against the government have very different procedures that must be followed.

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