DADE CITY — Pasco commissioners have dropped any further appeals of a $7 million verdict against the county for the wrongful death of a Tampa police officer who was killed when his motorcycle was struck by a county employee.
Master Patrol Officer Victor Guerrero, 47, a 20-year Tampa police veteran, was killed on May 1, 2008, after a county employee turned his county-issued Ford Ranger pickup into the off-duty officer’s path as Guerrero rode his new Harley-Davidson motorcycle south on U.S. 41 about a mile north of Growers Corner.
A Pasco County jury awarded the officer’s family $7 million in their wrongful death suit last year. It is the largest jury award ever against Pasco County.
The judgment included $1 million for Victor Guerrero’s lost wages. The jury awarded $1.5 million to his widow, Lara Guerrero, and $1.75 million to each of Victor Guerrero’s three sons, Michael, David and Kevin, for pain and suffering. The total judgment came to $7.85 million, but the jury reduced it by 10 percent.
Pasco County had filed a motion for a new trial immediately and asked the judge to reconsider the amount of the jury award. Both were denied, and the Second District Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment.
“Everyone was ecstatic with the ruling,” said Scott Lazar, attorney for the estate. “It came out about a week after the oral arguments, which is pretty unheard of for the DCA. They just approved it without any comment whatsoever.”
“We felt all along there was no real basis for the appeal,” Lazar said.
County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder said it was clear, based on the judges’ questions and comments, the judges were sympathetic to the Guerrero family. Since the appellate court upheld the $7 million verdict, it cannot be appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, he explained in a memo to commissioners.
Commissioners voted to pay the estate $200,000 from the county’s Risk Management budget.
It could be years before the family collects anything more.
By law, the state, counties, municipalities and certain other agencies hold sovereign immunity from lawsuits. The law allows for recovery of up to $200,000 if there is wrongdoing on the government’s part, but anything beyond those numbers requires an act of the Legislature: It must literally pass a law calling for the money to be paid.
Those bills can take years, sometimes even decades, to win approval.
“We are exploring the claims bill process and the best way to collect the jury’s award,” Lazar said. “At the end of the day, it’s up to the Legislature to provide for his family — his wife and three children — with the amount that six Pasco County citizens felt they deserved.”