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Wrongful Death Lawsuits Against Government Agencies

Categories:Law in Florida

When one thinks of wrongful death, the types of lawsuit that comes to mind might be ones against a company who makes a defective product that is responsible for the person’s death, or against a doctor and/or medical group due to medical malpractice that ends tragically.

However, sometimes a wrongful death case may seem atypical. For example, what about when a government agency is the entity that is responsible the wrongful death? In a case out of Marion County, a federal judge found that the government body deserved no special treatment. In the beginning of July, a federal judge in Florida upheld a jury’s $2.26 million wrongful death award against the Marion County Sheriff’s Office based on some of their deputies using excessive and unreasonable force against a suspect.

According to the Ocala Star-Banner, the deceased—21-year-old Joshua Salvato—fought deputies Lauren Miley and Norman Brown along a dark stretch of road in Summerfield on July 6, 2012. Apparently, the altercation occurred after the deputies attempted to question him about reports that he was acting erratically. Brown repeatedly used a stun gun against Salvato while Miley fired the fatal shot. At the nine-day trial, the Defendants argued that Salvato’s behavior contributed to his death, but the jury ultimately rejected those arguments.

In upholding the jury’s verdict, Judge William Terrell Hodges ruled that the Marion County Sheriff’s Office must pay the $2.26 million awarded despite the Sheriff’s Office’s protests that the ruling should be delayed until an appellate court decides the issue of qualified immunity on Miley. (The Judge stated that the appellate court’s decision would not affect the jury verdict). In addition to the Sheriff’s Office’s responsibility in excess of $2 million, the jury found that Brown used excessive and objectively unreasonable force against Salvato, causing Salvato pain and suffering, and did so in bad faith or malice. Therefore, Brown could not receive the protection of personal immunity, and must personally pay more than $18,000 to Salvato’s estate. The jury also found that Miley’s force was excessive and unreasonable, but decided that because it was not carried out in bad faith, she was not personally responsible for paying anything. (The jury also found that the Sheriff’s Office failed to investigate the circumstances causing the death, which was akin to the Sheriff’s Office ratifying and approving the force).

Normally, the Sheriff’s Office’s liability would be capped at $300,000 (and monies are paid by the Florida Sheriff’s Management Fund), but that cap does not apply to the federal component of the lawsuit.

Some wrongful death actions may not be the types of situations that are obvious at first glance due to the entity responsible or due to unusual circumstances. Despite those preconceived notions, if your family member suffered a wrongful death due to the actions of another, no matter who that person or entity is, call Brooks Law Group to assess your claim and determine whether you are entitled to any compensation. Our skilled attorneys are waiting to assist you.

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