On December 15th, A Long Island woman filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against Suffolk County and a national restaurant chain, alleging they were responsible for a 2013 car crash that killed her son. The lawsuit makes the novel argument that Suffolk County police violated the deceased's civil rights by failing to arrest him for driving under the influence of alcohol, thereby contributing to the fatal accident.
Fedden v. County of Suffolk, New York
According to the plaintiff's complaint, her son went to a restaurant after work and had two 16-ounce servings of whiskey. He allegedly consumed at least 10 ounces of alcohol within a 90-minute period and “became intoxicated” before leaving the restaurant. About half an hour later, he crashed his car. The complaint said he was driving over 90 miles per hour and lost control due to “recklessness” and the fact he was intoxicated.
Several Suffolk County police officers and emergency medical personnel arrived at the scene of the accident. According to the plaintiff, her son was well known to local police, having operated a deli frequented by officers, and he had several police “courtesy cards” on him. Such cards, the complaint said, “are given by police officers to individuals they know for other officers to extend courtesies during police stops/pullovers.”
The police did not arrest or charge the plaintiff's son in connection with the accident. Instead they drove him home, whereupon the complaint alleges he simply took the plaintiff's vehicle “in his still intoxicated condition” and went back out onto the road. A few minutes later, he crashed again, suffering fatal injuries.
The plaintiff argues the police effectively conspired to deny her son his civil rights (i.e., his right to live) by giving him special treatment and allowing him to access another vehicle in his inebriated state rather than simply arresting him and holding him in jail. The complaint accuses the police department of negligence in failing to properly train and supervise its officers. The plaintiff also accuses the restaurant that served her son that night of negligence in allowing him to consume more than 10 ounces of liquor in a 90-minute period. Overall, the plaintiff is seeking $30 million in compensatory damages apiece from the county and the restaurant, and another $100 million from the county in punitive damages.
Pursuing Wrongful Death Claims
It must be emphasized that this complaint only reflects the plaintiff's view of the facts. Neither Suffolk County nor the restaurant have made any public statements related to this litigation. The case remains pending before a federal judge.
While this case may raise unique questions regarding police liability, wrongful death lawsuits arising from automobile crashes are sadly commonplace. If you have lost a loved one in an accident due to the negligence of another, it is important you speak with an experienced New York accident attorney who can advise you of your legal options. Contact our office today if you have any questions.