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Shea v. City of Spokane – Case Brief Summary (Washington)

In Shea v. City of Spokane, 17 Wn. App. 236, 562 P.2d 264, 266 (Wash. Ct. App. 1977), a prisoner suffered a serious spinal cord injury when he fell in his jail cell.

He sued the City of Spokane for damages resulting from negligent medical treatment by a doctor who, under contract with the city, had examined him at the jail but did not detect the severity of his injury.

The Washington Court of Appeals held the city had a nondelegable duty to provide adequate medical services to a prisoner and the negligence of the doctor was imputed to the city.

That duty, the court held, was nondelegable because the city had "complete control" over the prisoner:

"The nature of the relationship is such as to render non delegable the duty of providing for the health of a prisoner. Stated another way, the duty is so intertwined with the responsibility of the County as custodian that it cannot be relieved of liability for the negligent exercise of that duty by delegating it to an "independent contractor" physician." (Shea, 562 P.2d at 268.)

The Supreme Court of Washington later adopted, in full, the "analysis, rationale and conclusion of the Court of Appeals." Shea v. City of Spokane, 90 Wn.2d 43, 578 P.2d 42, 42 (Wash. 1978).