Sunday, August 24, 2008

You Knew The Job Was Dangerous When You Took It, Superchicken

You Knew The Job Was Dangerous When You Took It, Superchicken

Or so a former boss of mine used to say. This suit somewhat fits that cartoon--but there's a lot here that leaves me very conflicted. This August 10, 2008 Sacramento Bee article is about a lawsuit filed by police officers against a woman who has already lost her husband and son:
This is where Mies, who was 34, died of bullet wounds from the ensuing gunbattle with El Dorado County deputies.

Three deputies and a police dog also were hit in the firefight that morning; all survived.

The bloody date was June 5, 2007. Karen Mies, staggering under the news that her son had murdered her husband, told a family friend she was grateful for one thing: The wounded deputies were alive.

One year later to the day, two of the deputies filed a civil lawsuit against the widow and the estate of her deceased husband, Arthur, and her son. Officers Jon Yaws and Greg Murphy – both recovered and back at work – each is suing the Mies family for $4 million for emotional distress, medical expenses, loss of earning capacity, and punitive damages.

Given her modest circumstances, the 66-year-old hospice nurse says their $8 million claim would be laughable – if the whole situation were not so heartbreaking.

"June 5 was a tragic day for me and my family, and it was a tragic day for the deputies who were injured," Karen Mies said. "We were all victims that day. But this lawsuit is victimizing our family again. What do they want? My husband's dead, my son's dead. Do they want my house and my 10-year-old car?"

In their lawsuit, Yaws and Murphy allege the Mies family was negligent in failing to control their troubled son Eddie, behavior that led to the gunbattle and their injuries. Yaws was wounded in the arm, chest and leg; Murphy was struck once in the leg.

In addition to their physical injuries, the suit alleges the deputies suffered anxiety and humiliation.

The article explains that such suits are rare, and rarely won, because "the firefighter's rule" generally precludes emergency personnel from collecting for damages, on the theory articulated by by boss, above:

"With the firefighter's rule, the reasoning is that they voluntarily agreed to undertake these risks – they know going in that fighting crime or fighting fires is dangerous," said Julie Davies, a professor at McGeorge School of Law. "Additionally, they are paid well to encounter the risks. They're given a whole packet of benefits to compensate them if they're injured, so allowing them to sue citizens would almost be like double taxation."

Davies said there's another consideration, as well: "If people worry that they might be sued by police officers or firefighters, they might hesitate to call on them for help. And that would be bad public policy."

Now, adding to the complexity of this is that the son was mentally ill, and while his parents had made attempts to get help for him--well, regular readers of my column know that our mental health system is a disgrace. There are lots of mentally ill people with far more serious problems than the younger Mies apparently had, who do not receive treatment--and at least partly because our system has bent over backwards to protect the rights of the mentally ill to refuse treatment.

I think there's a strong argument that if Mr. X engages in criminal acts that cause injuries to Mr. Y and Mr. Z, that they have a legitimate claim against Mr. X or his estate. But in this case, they are attempting to hold the parents responsible for failure to prevent their son from gaining access to firearms, and for failure to get him adequate mental health care.

I would agree that failure to keep guns adequately secured from someone living with the family whom they knew to be mentally ill is perhaps a legitimate basis for a civil suit, depending on the circumstances involved. But at least according to this news story:
Filed in El Dorado Superior Court, the lawsuit claims that Eddie Mies should have known that he was "afflicted with certain mental health conditions" that would result in dangerous and violent behavior.
Huh? Eddie Mies was the 34 year old who shot at the police officers, killed his father, and was mentally ill. They want to hold Eddie Mies responsible for being mentally ill? This turns centuries of Anglo-American law concerning legal responsiblity on its head. Now that's crazy.

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