Unfortunately, because the defendant is a municipality, the award is capped at $100,000. The city hasn’t yet said whether it will appeal the decision.
Plaintiff, 52, was a passenger in a vehicle driven by her son just a few weeks before Christmas 2010. Defendant Daniel Gowans, a Fort Lauderdale police officer, was responding to a domestic violence call when he arrived at the intersection of Southeast Fourth Avenue and Sunrise Boulevard. His cruiser collided with the vehicle driven by plaintiff’s son. As a result of that impact, plaintiff’s wrist was broken in eight different places.
In lawsuits like this, police officers and their employers are granted certain protections – known as sovereign immunity – in many personal injury lawsuits.
However, there are waivers to this immunity, and one of the more common is for vehicle liability, when police or other government employees are involved in auto accidents. Police aren’t allowed to carelessly run stop signs or blow through traffic signals or travel at excessive speeds.
If the government worker was responding to a genuine emergency (usually indicated with lights and sirens), the standard of proof is higher. Plaintiff will have to show the worker (in this case police officer) displayed willful and wanton disregard for the well-being of others.
In the case involving Officer Gowans, the court did hear evidence Gowans had activated his lights and sirens. However, due to heavy traffic volumes, plaintiff’s son couldn’t see him until it was too late to stop.
Central to the case was the fact that prior to Gowans entering the section, dispatch sent out notice that another officer was already on scene. That meant that there was no need for him to have his lights and sirens still on when he entered the intersection.
Plaintiff did not have insurance, and racked up a hospital bill of more than $80,000. The hospital administrators did reduce that bill, but it was still far in excess of what she could afford.
After weighing all the evidence, jurors determined the officer was negligent and further that he was 90 percent to blame for the crash. Plaintiff’s damages were more than $30,000 for previous medical bills, $7,000 for bills to be paid in the future and $300,000 for pain and suffering.
The officer is still with the department. Coincidentally, he was also the subject of a lawsuit that was settled four years ago by a defendant who alleged he was wrongly arrested for resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. While surveillance video at the home indicated the man was cooperative, Gowans had reported otherwise. Defendant in that case was awarded $30,000.
In this case, the only opportunity plaintiff will have to obtain the full amount of the award would be to petition a politician to introduce and pass a claims bill. Prior experience has shown this can take many years.
At this point, plaintiff attorneys have stated, they are hoping the city does not appeal the decision.
“Our hope is that after years of fighting this, they choose to honor the jury’s verdict,” the Sun-Sentinel quoted the lawyer as saying.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Woman wins $306,000 judgement against Fort Lauderdale for crash with cruiser, Feb. 3, 2016, By Rafael Olmeda, The Sun Sentinel
More Blog Entries:
Wrong-Way Accidents in Broward, Miami-Dade Target for Safety Advocates, Jan. 25, 2016, Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Blog