A Pierce County, Washington case that reached the state Supreme Court last December ruled that bail bond companies are sometimes liable for the negligent actions of bounty hunters that are sub-contracted to capture felons.
The case in question was the end result of a lawsuit dating back to 2004 which was initiated against CJ Johnson Bail Bonds by felon, Larry Stout, who in July of 2002 lost a leg after a bounty hunter rammed his car from behind while trying to capture him. At the time of his injury, the defendant was charged with drug crimes and he had missed two court hearings.
At a later time, he did plead guilty to these charges and he received treatment and fines instead of a prison sentence because he was a first time offender.
The case is a bit complex and concerns sub-contracting, as the bail company hired Michael Golden to bring the defendant in and Golden in turn offered the job to Carl Warren, bounty hunter. According to court records, it was Warren who forced Stout’s car off the road and into a tree, causing the loss of his leg. Stout’s negligence lawsuit was filed against all three parties: CJ Johnson, Golden and Warren.
Judge Felnagle ruled that it was only Warren who was responsible for his actions and CJ Johnson and Golden were dismissed as defendants. A $6 million judgment was signed against the bounty hunter in 2009. Stout appealed this decision and took the case to the Court of Appeals, which upheld the judge’s ruling. He did get the ruling reversed with the help of his appellate attorney, Andrew Helland, who took the case to the state Supreme Court.
Generally speaking, the contract law of the state of Washington protects companies from the ‘vicarious liability’ of their contractors and sub-contractors. By ruling in Stout’s favor, the court made an exception to that law.
In the words of Justice Susan Owens: “ Stout was not an innocent third party hurt by the negligent actions of a bounty hunter, but, in a sense, brought his injuries on himself by remaining a fugitive instead of turning himself in.”
Bail bond recovery is always risky business and in this case it was Stout himself who created the circumstances under which he came face to face with the recovery agent.
This case may not be over yet.
Who will win?
Time alone will tell.