John M. Kirby
Baker v. Smith
On December 18, 2012, the Court of Appeals held that a detainee could not sue an assistant jailor for negligence, because the assistant jailor was protected by official immunity. In this case, the detainee committed suicide while in custody, and his Estate sued the assistant jailor alleging that she failed to take adequate measures to prevent the detainee from committing suicide. The detainee was on a suicide watch, and used a blanket to hang himself.
The court provided an excellent analysis of official immunity, which protects public "officials" from mere negligence. The issue in this case was whether an assistant jailor was an "official." The case law clearly held that the jailor was entitled to such immunity, but whether the assistant jailor was entitled to immunity was an open question in North Carolina. The court looked at several factors, such as whether the assistant jailor exercised discretion, and concluded that she had such immunity.
The case of Baker v. Smith provides a good analysis of public official immunity. Unfortunately, many cases gloss over this important part of the analysis (whether the defendant is an official), as noted to some degree by this thorough opinion. For another case addressing official immunity, and holding that police officers could be liable for malicious acts, see Wilcox v. Asheville.