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Cal. Gov't Code § 845.8 states that neither a public entity nor a public employee is liable for any injury caused by an escaping or escaped prisoner; an escaping or escaped arrested person; a person resisting arrest. The statute provides an absolute immunity--one which applies to ministerial as well as discretionary acts. The term arrest includes detentions as well, and the supreme court recognizes that the statute was intended to immunize public entities and employees from the entire spectrum of potential injuries caused by persons actually or about to be deprived of their freedom who take physical measures of one kind or another to avoid the constraint or to escape from it.
On March 12, 1991, San Mateo County juvenile hall employees Michelle Silveira and Aaron Turner were transporting 15-year-old plaintiff Kay Maureen Ladd to the San Mateo County juvenile hall. Ladd was a ward of the juvenile court who had been placed in the custody of her aunt but, having run away from her aunt's home, had been taken into custody by the Butte County Sheriff. Silveira and Turner had taken custody of Ladd at the Butte County juvenile hall, handcuffed her with her hands in front of her body, and placed her in the rear seat of a San Mateo County automobile. It was raining. When the vehicle stopped for a red traffic signal near some railroad tracks, Ladd jumped out of the automobile and ran toward a slow-moving freight train. Despite being handcuffed, Ladd tried to climb aboard a boxcar, but fell beneath the wheels of the train, resulting in the loss of both her legs. Ladd sued San Mateo County and the county employees responsible for transporting her, alleging the county was negligent in failing to adequately train and supervise its employees and in failing to provide "adequate equipment and a security vehicle." Ladd further alleged that the county employees were negligent in failing to properly restrain and care for her, "so as to permit her to flee said automobile and board a moving railroad train." The superior court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants on the ground the county and its employees were immune from liability pursuant to Government Code section 845.8, which states that "[n]either a public entity nor a public employee is liable for: [P] . . . [P] (b) Any injury caused by: [P] (1) An escaping or escaped prisoner," and section 846, which provides: "Neither a public entity nor a public employee is liable for injury caused by the failure to make an arrest or by the failure to retain an arrested person in custody." The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment on the ground that defendants were immune from liability pursuant to section 845.8, without reaching the question whether defendants also were immune under section 846.
Did the immunity provided public entities and employees by Government Code section 845.8, subdivision (b), from liability for any injury "caused by" an escaping prisoner apply when a prisoner injures herself during an attempted escape?
The court affirmed, holding that the immunity provided to public entities and employees by § 845.8(b) from liability for any injury caused by an escaping prisoner applied to self-inflicted injuries suffered by the prisoner. The court also held that Cal. Veh. Code § 17001 did not apply because the injury had to be proximately caused by the negligent operation of a motor vehicle.