(CN) - After prison guards nearly let an inmate murder the wife who came to visit him, Iowa must pay the woman $174,000, a state appeals court ruled.
Bobby Morris was serving a life sentence in Iowa's highest-security prison when his wife, Mary, came to visit him, the ruling states.
Mary sued the state in Polk County claiming that Morris exploited the state's negligence by trying to murder her during the visit.
A jury ultimately awarded Mary $176,000, and the Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed.
Though Iowa said it could not have reasonably expected such violence, the Oct. 14 ruling says "this argument 'misses the mark.'"
"Our precedent does not require foreseeability by the victim but foreseeability by the state," Judge Anuradha Vaitheswaran wrote for a three-person panel.
As Morris assaulted his wife in the visitors' restroom for five to seven minutes, "there was screaming and banging," the court found.
"Neither guard heard this commotion," Vaitheswaran wrote.
The decision notes that a woman in the visitors' area who witnessed the altercation tried in vain to get a guard's attention by banging on the guard station windows.
An officer who was supposed to be watching the visiting room could not explain why he missed the incident, "except that he must have been distracted," the trial court found.
The ruling holds Iowa negligent in having let its inmate move around the visiting room for more than three minutes before the attack.
Vaitheswaran noted admission from the guards that they also should not have allowed Morris to move into the restricted area near the visitors' bathroom.
The court agreed with Mary that "the guard on duty failed to exercise ordinary care."
Likewise, Mary's status as a prison visitor "afforded her a special relationship with the state, triggering a state duty to control the prisoner's conduct," the ruling states.