Summary Judgment Win in Wrongful Death Inmate Case

Ed Zeidler prevailed on a Motion for Summary Judgment in a wrongful death case filed against multiple law enforcement entities. The decedent was arrested by a sheriff’s deputy in New Madrid County on an outstanding warrant for domestic assault, and he was taken to the New Madrid County Sheriff’s Department for booking. Because New Madrid County does not have a jail, another deputy transported the decedent to the Pemiscot County jail. While in route, the decedent became belligerent. The transporting deputy requested assistance, and an officer from a nearby municipality responded, met the deputy on the highway, helped restrain the decedent, including the use of a taser, and then rode with the deputy to the Pemiscot County jail. Pemiscot County jailers took then took custody of the decedent and placed him in a restraint chair. Despite the decedent’s ongoing lack of cooperation, he was booked, showered and then placed in a recreation room for observation on video camera. After approximately 80 minutes, one of the jailers checked on the decedent and found him to be non-responsive. EMS were called, and the decedent was pronounced dead. The cause of death was determined to be acute methamphetamine intoxication.

Plaintiffs were the decedent’s surviving spouse and children. Against Mr. Zeidler’s clients (the municipal officer who assisted in transporting the decedent, that officer’s police chief, and the municipality that employed the officer and the police chief), plaintiffs alleged violations of 42 USC 1983 (based on alleged violation of the decedent’s 14th Amendment right to medical care as a pretrial detainee) and they also stated a claim under the Missouri Wrongful Death Statute (based on the theory that the defendants failed to adequately monitor the decedent, failed to obtain medical care for him when it was clear that such care was required, and improperly used a taser on him when it was clear that he was in a state of delirium and in need of medical assistance). Mr. Zeidler filed a Motion to Dismiss the 1983 claims, arguing that, under Missouri’s survival statutes, 1983 claims do not survive death and cannot be asserted by a decedent’s surviving family members. As such, plaintiffs had no standing to pursue a 1983 claim following the decedent’s death. The court agreed, finding plaintiffs’ 1983 claims impermissible and dismissing those claims. With respect to the wrongful death claim, once plaintiffs’ expert disclosure deadline passed, Mr. Zeidler filed a Motion for Summary Judgment arguing that plaintiffs, after an adequate time for discovery, had failed to present evidence to support the position that the decedent would have survived but for the alleged negligent acts of the defendants. Plaintiffs identified no medical experts other than the medical examiner, and plaintiff failed to timely disclose any causation opinions from the medical examiner. The court rejected plaintiffs’ argument that the jury should be allowed to deduce, in the absence of expert testimony, that the actions of the defendants caused the decedent’s death. Rather, the decedent’s death was a sophisticated injury that required expert testimony to establish a causal link between the alleged negligence and the decedent’s death.