Subscribe to LexTalk to stay on top of today’s legal issue and trends.
Catapult Your Career |
Industry Insights & Trends |
Product Training & Tips
When it comes to personal injuries caused by the negligent or reckless acts of government employees, it is still possible to fight city hall and win. Snohomish County, Washington, just paid a million dollars to the family of a man who was killed by tear gas which sheriff's deputies negligently threw in a dumpster behind city hall in Darrington, Washington in 2011.
The facts would be laughable if they hadn't turned out to be tragic. The deputies discovered a stash of riot-control ammunition, mostly teargas canisters, that were past their expiration date. Rather than dispose of them as toxic waste, the deputies decided to have a fun training day with them. They went to a local gravel pit and spent hours firing off the rounds. When they were done, they picked up most of the spent canisters, some of which were dud rounds that never released their teargas, and threw them in the trunk of their patrol car. While driving back to the office, the car filled with tear gas, leaving the deputies choking, crying, blinded, and in one case bleeding from the nose.
Missing another chance to dispose of the tear gas properly, they instead stopped in Darrington and threw the canisters into a dumpster behind city hall. The next day, the trash truck emptied the dumpster into the compacter and … you are correct. A massive tear gas explosion in the middle of town that sent about 15 people to the hospital.
The deceased in this case wasn't even there at the time. He arrived home, across the street from the dumpster, about two hours later, and walked past the dumpster on his way to city hall. The lingering tear gas from the explosion triggered respiratory distress in the 67-year-old father of four, and he died of complications three weeks later.
It took good legal work and expert testimony to establish that the tear gas caused his respiratory distress, but once the evidence was lined up, Snohomish County settled. The County did not want to go in front of a jury and try to defend the negligence of its deputies in dumping dangerous chemical waste in a residential area.
Personal injury suits against governmental entities can be complicated. Government agencies and their employees are protected by immunities that do not apply to the private sector. But in the right circumstances, governments are held to the same standards as everyone else, and are held liable for their negligence. A successful case takes good lawyers who understand government immunity and how to build a personal injury case.