proper record-keeping, supervision, and classification of inmates was not possible under the conditions that existed. Plaintiff was attacked by a psychotic inmate convicted of first-degree murder who the evidence showed was improperly assigned to the unit where plaintiff was housed because of inadequate medical supervision. Only two guards mingled in the unit, which then held about 125 inmates whose beds in the corridors and recreation areas enabled the District to exceed the rated design of 80 for that space. The guards' reports of the incident were misplaced, no discipline was imposed on the perpetrator, and plaintiff received limited medical attention for his battered face and injured eye.
Under ordinary negligence standards, the supporting evidence was overwhelming that there was a negligent deviation by the District from its clear duty to exercise reasonable care in the protection and safekeeping of inmates at the jail and that this deviation was, as the jury found, the proximate cause of plaintiff's injuries. Indeed, the undisputed proof made negligence in protecting prisoners at the unit as "plain as the nose on a man's face."
There is no hard-and-fast rule in this jurisdiction as to when expert testimony is needed to show whether the District has negligently deviated from its duty to protect inmates. The test is whether the events at issue were within the realm of common knowledge and everyday experience. In some cases involving techniques such as the proper placement of guards at various disparate locations in a prison, "expert testimony or supporting evidence" is required. Hughes v. District of Columbia, 425 A.2d 1299, 1303 (D.C. App. 1981). See also Matthews v. District of Columbia, 387 A.2d 731, 734 (D.C. App. 1978). In other cases the negligence is obvious and no expert is needed. E.g., Gaither v. District of Columbia, 333 A.2d 57, 60 (D.C. App. 1975). See generally W. Keeton, Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts 188-89 (5th ed. 1984).
No subtleties were involved in this case. Under the totality of the circumstances,
the deviation from any reasonable standard of care was obvious and flagrant. This was underlined by the jury's finding that the District's violation rose from negligence to the level of "deliberate indifference," thus entitling plaintiff to damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for cruel and unusual punishment. The jury was instructed on "deliberate indifference" as follows:
Deliberate indifference occurs if there is an obvious unreasonable risk of violent harm to a prisoner or a group of prisoners which is known to be present or should have been known, and the District through its employees who knew or should have known of the risk were outrageously insensitive or flagrantly indifferent to the situation and took no significant action to correct or avoid the risk of harm to the prisoner or prisoners who were subject to the unreasonable risk of violent harm.