SALT LAKE CITY (CN) – Drivers can get ticketed for not buckling up, but state prison guards may be liable for not buckling up a prisoner who became paralyzed after a van transporting him and other inmates rolled on the freeway, the Utah Supreme Court ruled.
Utah prison guards Jason Bosko and Barry Sanns loaded Kelvin Dexter into a van with eight other inmates, all of whom were handcuffed and shackled, in December 2000. Several inmates allegedly asked to have their seatbelts fastened, but Bosko and Sanns refused. Dexter did not make that request.
Bosko, the driver, became distracted and lost control of the van on the freeway. The van rolled three times, throwing Dexter from the vehicle. He was paralyzed from the accident and died five years later due to complications from his injuries.
Before his death, he sued the guards under the state’s constitutional prohibition on “unnecessary rigor in confinement.”
The justices said a prisoner “suffers from unnecessary rigor when subject to unreasonably harsh, strict, or severe treatment.”
But the high court remanded, saying it needs to know more about Dexter’s circumstances to decide if he had a right to have his seatbelt buckled. “Whether a violation has occurred will depend on the specific facts of the case,” Associate Chief Justice Wilkins wrote.