At the time, according to The Daily Report, the deputy was on-duty, but he wasn’t on his way to any emergency. He didn’t have any of his lights or sirens activated. He simply blew through the stop sign.
The impact of the collision sent plaintiff’s vehicle careening and then flipping into a ditch at the edge of a cotton field. It landed upside down and she and a passenger were trapped for a full 45 minutes before she could be pried out with a hydraulic extraction tool known more commonly as the “Jaws of Life.” Plaintiff was transported by helicopter to a nearby hospital, as did the deputy, who also suffered severe injuries. Plaintiff’s passenger was injured too, though not so severely. He did need to be hospitalized as well.
Facts presented at trial indicated the deputy was being followed by a colleague after returning from a call. The pair were in an area they weren’t exactly familiar with, and the deputy would later say he didn’t know there was a stop sign at that particular intersection. He didn’t see it. In fact, he never even slowed down. The deputy was trailing behind him testified he never saw any brake lights at all prior to the crash.
Plaintiff and her passenger later sued the county, for whom deputy worked. Although there are caps in Florida on how much a plaintiff can collect against the government in a personal injury lawsuit ($300,000) absent a claims bill approved by the legislature, in this case, the county had a $1 million inter-local risk management insurance policy.
The passenger in the vehicle settled early on with the county for $150,000. That meant there was still $850,000 remaining on its insurance policy that plaintiff could potentially win.
Plaintiff alleged her medical bills and lost wages alone reached nearly $800,000. Plaintiff offered to settle prior to trial for $850,000, at which point the county offered just $200,000. Plaintiff countered with a “drop-dead demand” of $800,000, meaning it was the lowest they would be willing to go in a pre-trial settlement. Neither side refused to budge further, and the case went to trial.
The county conceded that the deputy was negligent. Although law enforcement officers do have a fair amount of discretionary leeway in the violation of traffic laws when they are responding to an emergency, but even then, most internal policies don’t allow officers the ability to flagrantly violate traffic laws in a way that jeopardizes the safety of the general public. In this case, the deputy wasn’t responding to an emergency and simply failed to see the stop sign.
The case went to trial on the issue of damages. Defense lawyers argued plaintiff should only receive $180,000 in damages — less than even what they offered to settle for prior to trial.
Following a case that took two days to try, jurors spent approximately three hours deliberating, ultimately deciding plaintiff should receive $525,000 in damages, with $431,000 in general compensatory damages and the rest for pain and suffering.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Woman Hit by Officer Who Ran Stop Sign Awarded $525K by Swainsboro Jury, Feb. 1, 2017, By Greg Land, Daily Report
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