A Florida jury has awarded a prisoner $1.2 million in a negligence suit against the GEO Group, the nation’s second-largest for-profit prison company, following a trial that was delayed more than a year after a juror said he was afraid to reach a verdict.
The case stemmed from an August 28, 2007 argument between prisoners Roy D. Hyatt and Rodney Smith in the dayroom of their unit at the South Bay Correctional Facility. Following the spat, Smith used a microwave to boil a container of water. He then returned to the dayroom and threw the water on Hyatt, who sustained first- and second-degree burns to approximately 30% of his body and lost the use of one eye.
Hyatt sued GEO in state court, alleging the company was aware of other incidents in which prisoners had used microwaves to boil water to assault other prisoners.
Hyatt’s complaint, filed by attorney Philip G. Thompson, claimed that GEO had breached its duty of care by allowing prisoners unrestricted “access to microwaves to boil water which could be used as a weapon against other inmates.” The suit also alleged that it was reasonably foreseeable that the incident involving Hyatt and Smith could occur, since GEO did not remove or restrict prisoners’ access to microwaves.
On May 10, 2011, shortly before the trial in the case was to begin, a juror told Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley that he feared for his safety if he returned a verdict against Hyatt.