Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.

Inmate's death blamed on dangerous condition: extreme heat

Property ownership in Allegheny County includes being responsible for the safety of people who visit you, work for you, reside on your premises or shop there. The duty to take reasonable measures to protect others extends from residential and corporate property owners to landlords and governments. A known dangerous condition cannot be ignored.

A homeless man found sleeping on the roof of a New York City building in February was arrested for trespassing. When the mentally ill ex-Marine failed to post bail, he was jailed on Rikers Island. The 56-year-old man was found dead in his cell just over a week later.

A notice of claim was filed recently letting the city know it would be named as the defendant in a $25 million wrongful death action. The lawsuit, for the benefit of the deceased veteran's 75-year-old mother, will claim the city's Department of Correction allowed the prisoner's cell to become dangerously hot, due to a malfunctioning heating system.

The city is being held responsible for the alleged negligence of employees, who did not address the overheating problem within the man's cell. The cell temperature was 100 degrees Fahrenheit when the unresponsive prisoner was found. The inmate's temperature was 103 degrees Fahrenheit four hours after the lifeless body was discovered.

Authorities have not determined the man's official cause of death, although an Associated Press source claimed the prisoner "baked to death." A preliminary medical examiner's report stated the probable cause was hyperthermia. The prisoner, unchecked by correction officers for several hours, had been taking medication that can cause heat sensitivity.

For a premises liability claim to be successful, a plaintiff must show a property owner knew a hazardous condition existed but took no action to correct it or minimize the risk of someone getting hurt. An injury or death must be connected to negligence before a plaintiff's losses are compensated.

Source: Military Times, "$25M lawsuit for inmate who died in hot NYC cell" Jake Pearson, The Associated Press, May. 16, 2014

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Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.
20 Stanwix Street, Seventh Floor
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

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