Maryland Jury Awards $2M in Inmate Highway Death

By | June 28, 2010

A Prince George’s County Circuit Court jury found the state of Maryland and a truck driver liable Thursday for roughly $2 million after the August 2007 death of an inmate who was killed while picking up trash along Interstate 495.

The jury awarded $2,025,000 to the estate and family of Rodney Jennings, who died after being struck by a dump truck driven by Wayne Goss, owner of W.H. Goss Trucking, LLC. The 28-year-old Jennings was serving time on a drug-related charge at the Herman L. Toulson Boot Camp in Jessup.

Though Goss didn’t work for the state, Joseph Mallon, the attorney representing Jennings’ family, argued the state was also to blame for the death because they did not sufficiently ensure Jennings’ safety.

No criminal charges were filed against Goss.

Mallon says employees in Maryland’s Department of Corrections and State Highway Administration did not properly evaluate traffic conditions near the exit ramp where the accident occurred, and should have required the inmates to traverse a certain portion of the highway by van, instead of on foot. He also faulted the training of the state workers monitoring the inmate crew’s work.

Mark A. Vernarelli, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said the department has changed its policy since Jennings’ death. Now, workers are required to be driven across ramps and similar areas in a corrections van, rather than crossing on foot.

“This was a terrible tragedy, and we hope never to have another like it,” Vernarelli said in an e-mail.

The jury did not stipulate how much of the damages award would be paid by the state and how much would be paid by Goss, according to Mallon.

A message left seeking comment from an attorney for Goss wasn’t immediately returned.

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