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Suit settled in case of Tampa man jailed after fatal stroke

The family of a Tampa man who was arrested and subsequently died in police custody has settled a third wrongful death suit. Somehow, the fact that he had suffered a stroke behind the wheel went unnoticed by law enforcement and paramedics while examining, arresting, and incarcerating him until it was too late.

The $105,000 settlement in the federal lawsuit was with Florida's Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, Hillsborough County, and a state trooper. This follows earlier settlements with the sheriff's office in Hillsborough County and Armor Correctional Health Services. The sheriff's office will pay $200,000, and Armor, which handles medical services for the jail, will pay $800,000.

The 51-year-old youth baseball coach was arrested in May 2012 when he drove his car off Interstate 275 and into a guardrail. The state trooper who found him reported that he was speaking incoherently, and did not obey instructions to get out of his vehicle. County paramedics examined him, and then he was arrested.

Even though the man displayed symptoms of paralysis on his left side and had to be taken by wheelchair into Orient Road Jail, he was booked for obstructing a law enforcement officer without being examined by any medical personnel there. When he was discovered about 36 hours later lying on the floor in his jail cell, he was transferred to Tampa General Hospital. Doctors there determined that he had suffered an ischemic stroke. The man fell into a coma, and died several months later.

The family's attorney noted that they got the maximum they could in this latest case due to the cap that Florida has on settlements involving multiple agencies. The $105,000, in addition to the $200,000 that the sheriff's office is already paying, brings the amount to just over the $300,000 limit set by the state. The family will still get over $1 million in all because of the settlement with Armor. If the case had gone to a jury instead of being settled, however, the family could have potentially been awarded more money.

It seems likely that a jury would have been sympathetic to the family of a man who had committed no crime, but was actually in serious medical distress -- distress that was ignored or unrecognized by professionals who should have known better. Florida's Department of Health has started an investigation into exactly how such a senseless tragedy happened.

Source: Tampa Bay Times, "Tampa stroke victim's heirs will receive $105,000 from county, state" Peter Jamison and Bill Varian, Oct. 02, 2013

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