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$650,000 Wrongful Death Settlement

Discussion in 'Legal' started by R.H. Lee, Jan 12, 2005.

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  1. R.H. Lee

    R.H. Lee Member

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    Supervisors OK $650,000 deal in Vestal case

    The settlement pays the two sons and family attorneys of Jay Vestal, who died during an '03 arrest attempt

    Nathan Welton

    The Tribune


    The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved the settlement of a $650,000 lawsuit between the county and the children of Jay Vestal, who died while deputies tried to arrest him Aug. 18, 2003.

    The settlement awarded $150,000 to each of the man's young sons and $350,000 to the family's attorneys.

    The lawsuit alleged that deputies used excessive force when they arrested the man at Templeton Mobile Home Park in the driveway of his girlfriend's home.

    According to County Administrator David Edge, the settlement was a smaller financial burden on taxpayers because the legal system could have required the county to pay for lawyers' fees had a jury awarded the boys even a modest sum of money out of pity. Those fees, Edge said, could have amounted to well more than $1 million.

    "The decision to settle was a bitter pill for the board to swallow, as the facts show our deputies acted completely within the law throughout the arrest," Edge said in a statement.

    Deputies tried to arrest Vestal because he had a warrant for failing to appear in court on a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge. A videotape shot from a camera in a sheriff's patrol car shows Vestal resisted deputies for five minutes, kicking and screaming on the ground.

    After applying leg and hand restraints to the man, deputies found that he had no pulse. They performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation and used a defibrillator until an ambulance arrived. Vestal was pronounced dead later at Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton.

    Separate investigations by the Sheriff's Department, District Attorney's Office and FBI cleared the deputies of any wrongdoing.

    Meanwhile, two pathologists' reports concluded that Vestal's struggling and high levels of cocaine and methamphetamine in his body contributed to his death.

    Sheriff Pat Hedges told the board Tuesday that although Vestal's death was unfortunate, it was a potential outcome for a drug user.

    http://www.sanluisobispo.com/mld/sanluisobispo/news/local/10570519.htm

    Questions: 1) If there was no wrongdoing on the part of the Sheriff's Deputies, why did the county pay out $650k? I am not saying there was any wrongdoing, my skepticism is directed at the Board of Supervisors and the County Counsel's office.

    2) How does this affect the deputies involved in the arrest? Negatively, I would think. Forevermore the fact that Vestal died during his arrest and the county paid a $650K settlement will follow them around, although they were exonerated.

    3) If there was no wrongdoing, why didn't the County Counsel's office defend the lawsuit? Edge says the defense could have cost $1 million, but that's because they always hire outside lawyers for this kind of stuff. Is the County Counsel's office not competent to defend a lawsuit? If not, how do they justify their existence?

    4) How the hell do the attorneys walk away with $350k out of the $650k?
     
  2. WT

    WT Member

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    Chump change.

    The county threw the relatives a bone. The county did well by avoiding a lawsuit with all the high attendant costs.
     
  3. pythonguy

    pythonguy Member

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    Unfortunately I see this type of thing all the time in the medical field. I manage a medical practice and the malpractice insurance companies are very willing to try and settle cases to keep the cost down by preventing a full blown trial, and all the attendant costs. There doesn't have to be any negligence, as long as the patient has any event that is negative, they sue. It can be due to their overweight, poor health, any condition they walked in with, but if the outcome turns bad, its litigate. Most of the time its patients that have no insurance, or medicaid, and they are in the lower income bracket. So they actually get free or almost free care, and then several thousand dollars in settlement money, its insane. And we non-abusers bear the burden of cost, as usual......
     
  4. Henry Bowman

    Henry Bowman Senior Member

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    :uhoh: I need to find different clients . . . or different cases. Does it work this way for you, El Tejon?
     
  5. Langenator

    Langenator Member

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    It's just another example of the way that the law has become an avenue for legalized extortion. All that you have to do is to sue a party (City Hall, Ford, Big Tobacco) with deep pockets and present a credible threat of being able to cause a very long and expensive trial, even if you don't have a good chance of winning said trial. If the likely expense of a trial is more than it will take to pay you off, I mean, settle the case, Deep Pockets will usually do so.

    That's pretty much what happened with Bushmaster and the D.C. sniper suit.
     
  6. Maxinquaye

    Maxinquaye Member

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    Sad when a substance which shouldn't even be illegal results in an unnecessary death. Not saying the guy wasen't a dumbass for resisting, but I feel the officers time would have been better spent doing other things, as it would have been except for the "War on Drugs" :barf:

    And I don't even smoke pot... :mad:
     
  7. MillCreek

    MillCreek Member

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    Although I am not an expert on these sort of wrongful death claims, I do have twenty years experience working on the defense side of medical malpractice claims. I negotiate or defend high-value personal injury claims frequently.

    To respond to your questions:

    1. Depending on your civil legal jurisdiction, $ 650 K in settlement was probably cheaper than the costs of defense and a potential jury verdict in excess of that amount. I note in particular that this jurisdiction allows for payment of the plaintiff legal fees in addition to any jury verdict. So if the jury found in favor of the plaintiff, the county would have to pay for their defense costs, the amount of the verdict and the plaintiff's attorney costs. And since one can never predict what a jury will do, the county came to the conclusion to limit their financial exposure to a known amount.

    2. This area is outside of my expertise.

    3. The County Counsel's office is likely made up of lawyers with expertise in criminal prosecution, governmental regulation, land use rules and the whole host of issues revolving around government. They probably don't have lawyers with lots of expertise or experience in defending high-value civil personal injury claims. Such lawyers can make far more money out on the private market. You can maximize your chance of a favorable outcome and minimize your financial exposure by hiring attorneys who are experts in this field. If you 'save money' by using a staff attorney in the office but end up having to pay a larger settlement or verdict because they did not work the case up well, the county ends up paying more money in the long run.

    4. In many types of civil litigation, the law provides that plaintiff attorney fees can be awarded in addition to any verdict. This is no doubt what happened here. It is also likely that the court had to approve the reasonableness of the plaintiff attorney fees. Awarding of plaintiff attorney fees is also very common in employment and discrimination cases.

    5. Although you did not ask, it is possible that some of all of this settlement was paid by the county's insurance company, although I doubt it. Most large counties are self-insured for this matters, since the insurance is difficult to find and extremely expensive.
     
  8. Standing Wolf

    Standing Wolf Member in memoriam

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    Do not feed the assault lawyers. Serious injury may result.
     
  9. flatrock

    flatrock Member

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    "Questions: 1) If there was no wrongdoing on the part of the Sheriff's Deputies, why did the county pay out $650k? I am not saying there was any wrongdoing, my skepticism is directed at the Board of Supervisors and the County Counsel's office."

    Because our society doesn't value integrity as highly as it once did.

    "2) How does this affect the deputies involved in the arrest? Negatively, I would think. Forevermore the fact that Vestal died during his arrest and the county paid a $650K settlement will follow them around, although they were exonerated."

    It may not hurt them, it definately won't help them.

    "3) If there was no wrongdoing, why didn't the County Counsel's office defend the lawsuit? Edge says the defense could have cost $1 million, but that's because they always hire outside lawyers for this kind of stuff. Is the County Counsel's office not competent to defend a lawsuit? If not, how do they justify their existence?"

    The city counsel probably doesn't have the expertise to defend this in court, nor does he likely have the time to do so effectively if he does have the expertise. He has other duties. They need to hire outside counsel because they can't afford to keep enough lawyers on staff all the time to be able to deal with things like this on the rare occasions when they arise.

    "4) How the hell do the attorneys walk away with $350k out of the $650k?"

    Because these lawsuits are a scam run by corrupt attorneys. Lawyers who seek out these cases which rely on sympathy rather than guild to win large awwards and run up high legal fees should be disbarred. However, the American Bar Association has become part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Lawyers are supposed to be mostly a self policed group of professionals, however what we have is the corrupt policing the corrupt.
     
  10. Shield529

    Shield529 Member

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    This type of thing will cease only when the public stops feeling police are the enemy, and blames the criminal for his crimes.
    Any action taken by police which is requierd and expected of us by the citizens we serve,(I.E. pursuits, warrant arrests), becomes our "fault" when unintended consiquences (SIC) that are beyond our control result. When a person dies or kills another as a result of their dicition to flee or fight, the families have discovered that this is akin to winning the lottery. No matter how false the accusation or where the blame lies the citys and countys of the nation will pay you a nice sum to get you to go away. The right to sue for damages is there so people could recoup losses from others negligent and intentional misconduct, these people see it as pay day.
    I hear from the families on TV crying "why did the police chase him" or "why did they not leave and come back when he was calm"
    The answer are these. We chased the person because he was commiting a crime. And someone who is in the state of mind to flee is a danger to socitiey. This is what you give tax dollars for, so I will chase the bad guy and stop him from harming other. If we do not chase and he goes and kills a person, the headline will read "Police fail to act person dies". We cannot win this one so we will continue to act for public safety.
    I someone needs arrested or has a warrant. We cannot come back when the suspect feels more like going to jail. We leave, it give him time to arm, make a plan, and take a hostage or two. If we left the citizens say "well the police had him and then just let him go now hes really done it". Again we cannot be right or win this. So I and others like me will continue to go do the right (wrong) thing as best we can.
    I honestly feel that if everytime a city or county paid out a lawsuit that was not owed. The police of that area should walk out, 100% of officers leave. Then this would stop.
     
  11. crt360

    crt360 Member

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    The county's version of the facts show the deputies acted "completely within the law" but there is no mention of the possibility that they may have been negligent. The fact that they did not break the law probably would have little effect on whether or not they could be found guilty in a (civil) wrongful death suit. To simplify a bit, doctors don't have to break the law to be successfully sued for removing the good lung, breast, foot, etc. If the plaintiff's attorneys did enough work to present a statement for $350K, I suspect they came up with some pretty strong evidence of negligence that quietly disappeared upon settlement. Contrary to what this and other headline grabbing cases may lead people to believe, governmental entities do frequently hold their ground in these situations, especially when they think they have the better hand.
     
  12. KenW.

    KenW. Member

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    What?! An in-custody death that is NOT TASER related? Show this to the anti-TASER people.
     
  13. R.H. Lee

    R.H. Lee Member

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    San Luis Obispo County has had several 'mysterious' in-custody deaths since Pat Hedges became Sheriff, not that long ago, either.
     
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