In a ruling of March 17, 2023, the Louisiana Supreme Court, in Tisdale v. Hedrick, reversed in part and affirmed in the part the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal’s opinion of June 8, 2022, affirming 90% fault against the Concordia Parish Sheriff for the assault and attempted kidnapping from the courthouse grounds of plaintiff by an unsupervised jail trustee. The court affirmed general damage quantum of $250,000 for the ongoing mental effects of the incident which “lasted less than two minutes.”
Tisdale v. Hedrick – Background
Mr. Morgan, the trustee, was a twice convicted felon and inmate trustee in the custody of the Sheriff of Concordia Parish. On the morning of February 20, 2019, Mr. Morgan was assigned to work with other trustees on the Courthouse grounds. The group of trustees was under the supervision of a Concordia Parish Deputy Sheriff. At some point, the Deputy left the courthouse to run errands. He testified he believed this was okay because there was a social function being conducted at the Courthouse and other deputies would be present to supervise the inmates. The trial court noted the record established no other deputies were aware they were expected to supervise the inmates. Noticing the lack of supervision, Mr. Morgan, who was dressed in blue jeans and a black jacket, simply walked away from the Courthouse and to the Vidalia Wal-Mart, where he attempted to kidnap Plaintiff.
As a result of the incident, Plaintiff suffered only minor physical injuries. However, she claimed significant emotional trauma from the incident. She initially saw a general practitioner a few days after the incident. She complained of being very nervous and an inability to sleep. He prescribed her anxiety medication.
Louisiana Supreme Court’s Decision
The Louisiana Supreme Court reversed in part and affirmed in part the lower court. In considering the Watson factors, the LA Supreme Court found the conduct of the Sheriff and his employees went far beyond mere inadvertence, and the multitude of negligent acts led directly to the trustee’s escape. In further findings, the trustee’s intentional actions could not have occurred absent the Sheriff’s numerous acts of negligence. While the Court did not say the Sheriff was more culpable than the intentional tortfeasor on the spectrum of fault, the record supported a finding that the Sheriff was equally at fault. After giving deference to the district court, and given the LA Supreme Court’s duty to reallocate fault only to the highest/lowest reasonable percentage within the discretion of the district court, the Sheriff’s fault is decreased to 50 percent and trustee’s fault is correspondingly increased to 50 percent.
The LA Supreme Court’s review of the record supported the district court’s findings that Plaintiff suffered PTSD as a result of the incident, had not fully recovered at the time of trial, and may never fully recover. Based on the particular facts of the case, and considering the particular substantial effects of PTSD on Plaintiff and the vast discretion afforded to the district court in awarding damages, the LA Supreme Court found no abuse of discretion in the district court’s award of $250,000.