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Geiger v. Bowersox - 974 S.W.2d 513 (Mo. Ct. App. 1998)

Rule:

The public duty doctrine states that a public employee is not civilly liable even for breach of a ministerial duty if that duty is owed to the general public rather than to a particular individual. A particular individual is owed a duty for the performance of ministerial duties in which a private individual has a special, direct, and distinctive interest. 

Facts:

Randy Geiger is an inmate at the Potosi Correctional Center. On November 16, 1995, after requesting and receiving his Maalox prescription from prison guard Dennis Pemberthy, Geiger ingested floor wax that had been placed into his Maalox bottle. Geiger immediately started vomiting and coughing up blood. Geiger was treated at Washington County Hospital and placed on an all liquid diet. Prison policy mandated that inmates' prescriptions are to be maintained and administered only by prison medical staff. However, Jane Doe, a prison nurse, placed Geiger's Maalox prescription into the control of the housing unit guards. Liquid floor wax is only accessible by prison employees. Geiger filed a pro se petition with the circuit court charging nurse Jane Doe and guard Pemberthy with negligence, Pemberthy with assault, and prison warden Michael Bowersox with vicarious liability for failure to properly train and supervise his employees. The trial court dismissed Geiger's petition without prejudice for failure to state a cause of action. Geiger appealed.

Issue:

Was the nurse liable for negligence?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The court reversed the judgment of the trial court inasmuch as it dismissed the negligence action and otherwise affirmed the judgment. Finding that the inmate had no fear of imminent peril and that his petition failed to allege any facts supporting the requisite element of intent necessary to carry any claim of battery, the court held that the guard was not liable for assault or battery. The court held that the nurse was negligent as she owed a duty to the inmate to follow prison policy that only medical staff were to maintain and administer medication to inmates, and her violation of that policy led to the inmate's injuries.

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