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Complex laws govern Kansas governments' liability

Most governments once enjoyed full liability protection under sovereign immunity laws. Passage of the Kansas Tort Claims Act gave victims the chance to sue governments for negligence. Obstacles for success include an abundance of legal exceptions, time constraints and frustrating damage caps.

Government immunity laws are similar in a bordering state where a prisoner assigned to drive other inmates to a job site caused a deadly crash. What rattled the public even more than learning prisoners had driving privileges was that the inmate in the fatal accident had multiple convictions for serious traffic offenses.

Investigators said the work van the prisoner was driving hit 90 mph before it slammed into a another van. The inmate survived, but the 47-year-old woman driver in the second vehicle was killed.

The prisoner was charged with manslaughter. He had a history of convictions for reckless driving, drug offenses and DUI.

The inmate driving program was suspended then canceled following a public outcry. Several state officials had no idea a prisoner driving program had been in place since the mid-1980s. Until the recent accident, the number of accidents involving inmate drivers - some with very questionable credentials - was also under the radar.

Nebraska inmate drivers were involved in more than a dozen traffic accidents in the last five years. Most incidents caused nothing more than property damage, but a review of some inmates' backstories is disturbing.

Among charges in the drivers' histories: drunk driving, careless driving, street racing, drug charges and speeding. The results of chemical tests administered to the drivers after the accidents were entered into the inmates' files confidentially.

A $5 million legal claim was been filed against the state of Nebraska. A skilled liability attorney would make sure the state is held accountable for damages, if a court determines the inmate driving program was a known safety hazard the state chose to ignore.

Source:  watchdog.org, "Another prisoner driving NE state van had DUI on his record" Deena Winter, Jul. 30, 2013

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