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Kansas Not Liable for Attack by Escaped Inmate

(CN) - A man whose mother was attacked by an escaped prisoner cannot prevail on a wrongful death claim against Kansas because it's protected by immunity, the state's high court ruled.

Christopher Zorn was mowing grass at a church on a prison work crew when an investigator from the prison arrived, asking who had stolen a pack of cigarettes from another work site, according to court records.

Before his interview with the investigator, Zorn escaped from custody. He hid in a shed until 9 p.m.

Zorn then entered the home of Helen Keiswetter, trying to find keys so he could steal her car. He admitted that he grabbed and kicked Keiswetter, causing her to fall and hit her head.

Keiswetter's daughter and grandson found her the next morning, barricaded in a closet. Keiswetter was hospitalized and died eight months later.

Her son, Ron Keiswetter, sued the state of Kansas for his mother's injuries and wrongful death.

Keiswetter faulted the state for "failing to continue Mr. Zorn's medication to control his bipolar disorder" and for "putting Mr. Zorn . . . on work release out in the community in spite of his dangerous propensities."

However, he later dropped those claims, proceeding only on the state's failure to prevent Zorn's escape.

The trial court ruled in the state's favor, arguing that it did not owe Keiswetter a special duty and that it was immune under the police protection exception of the Kansas Tort Claims Act (KTCA).

The Kansas Court of Appeals upheld the decision, and so did the Kansas Supreme Court in an April 22 opinion written by Chief Justice Lawton R. Nuss.

"We conclude Keiswetter's claim that the State failed to take reasonable care in preventing Zorn from escaping from custody and attacking Helen Keiswetter falls under the police protection exception to liability under the KTCA because it invokes the State's

'failure to provide, or the method of providing,,'" Nuss wrote.

The judge added that this immunity shields the state from allegations that certain calamities would not have occurred if more police cars had been on the streets or if better fire equipment had been available.

"So the state likewise is immunized from Keiswetter's claim that the attack on his mother could have been prevented if corrections personnel had more closely supervised Zorn, e.g., with additional personnel, to prevent his escape," Nuss wrote.

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