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Jailer May Be Liable for Fueling an Unsafe Fire

(CN) - A corrections officer who allegedly burned a inmate's legs by causing a fire to flare up when he threw a "gas bomb" on it is not immune from a lawsuit, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled.

Glen Avery Bryant suffered the injuries during a work detail cleaning out a cemetery while he was being held at the Pulaski County Detention Center. Bryant claims that, during a lunch break, deputy jailer Brian Bishop filled a "pop bottle" with gas, lit it with a wick, and then threw a cup full of gas on it. The flare-up caught Bryant's pants, causing the man to suffer severe, scarring burns that were complicated by Bryant's diabetes.

Bishop argued that the flare-up was an accident caused by a bottle that was thrown into the fire along with other trash.

The trial court granted summary judgment to the detention center and Bishop, ruling that they were protected by sovereign immunity and qualified official immunity, respectively.

But the Kentucky Supreme Court reversed the portion of the decision regarding Bishop, ruling that he did not act in good faith.

"Bishop would certainly be presumed to know ... that throwing gas on an open fire when appellant was standing nearby could reasonably cause appellant harm, thus making Bishop's action objectively unreasonable, or in bad faith," Justice Mary Noble wrote for the court on Jan. 20. The ruling remands the case to the Pulaski County Circuit Court.

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