Pasco County drops appeal in wrongful death case, but most of jury award yet to be paid to family
Even though Pasco County commissioners have now voted to drop their appeals of a $7 million verdict to the estate of an off-duty Tampa police officer killed by county employee, the family still has more hurdles to climb to receive the judgment.
The decision now goes to the Florida Legislature which, under sovereign immunity laws, must approve any judgment more than $200,000 paid by a governmental agency.
In 2012, a jury awarded the family of Victor Guerrero $7 million in its Tampa Bay Wrongful Death case after Guerrero, 41, was killed when a Pasco County truck driven by a county employee turned into the path of Guerrero’s motorcycle in 2008, according to a report in the Tampa Tribune. The verdict was the largest jury award ever against Pasco County and was broken out into specific portions – including $1 million for Guerrero’s lost wages, $1.5 for his widow and equal shares for each of his three children.
Not surprisingly, Pasco County attempted to avoid responsibility and the financial hit by immediately appealing the verdict and the jury award. This month, the Florida District Court of Appeal denied both appeals, the newspaper reported. The verdict cannot be appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, essentially forcing Pasco County to accept the verdict. So the impression Pasco County is trying to leave with the public is they’ve “done the right thing” by choosing to stop fighting the decision. But, in reality, they are only paying $200,000 for now.
Sovereign immunity laws are supposedly meant to limit verdicts that could cripple governments but, in Florida, the result is further politicizing decisions intended to be in the hands of a jury. Now, in order for the Guerrero family to be made whole as the jury decided in this Tampa Bay Wrongful Death Case, the state legislature must pass a bill awarding the verdict. It could be taken up as early as next spring in the 2014 legislative session, but these awards are often put on the backburner at the behest of the local elected officials responsible for paying the jury award.
This essentially allows the legislative branch of government to meddle in the business of the judicial branch. And it can have the desired, yet unstated, effect that some governments want: discouraging people from using the legal system to hold them accountable on claims worth more than $200,000, or simply accepting the $200,000 maximum and moving on. Our Tampa Bay Wrongful Death Attorney will press forward with substantial claims, sovereign immunity or not, and can discuss the best course of action with you and your family.
If you think you or a loved one may have a potential wrongful death claim in the Tampa Bay area, call Emerson Straw PL at 877-428-4177 or set up an appointment at emersonstraw.com for a free consultation with our Tampa Bay wrongful death attorneys.
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