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County and state tentatively settle wrongful death claims for Tampa stroke victim

TAMPA — County and state officials have tentatively agreed to settle a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by the heirs of a Tampa man who suffered a fatal stroke that went unrecognized as he was arrested and then jailed without treatment for 36 hours.

The settlement would bring to a close litigation in the disturbing case of Allen Daniel Hicks Sr. Mistakes made in Hicks' care have already brought a $1 million payout from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and its private medical contractor and prompted an investigation by state medical regulators.

Now Hillsborough County, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and a Florida Highway Patrol trooper have also agreed to settle claims brought against them in the case, federal court records show.

This week, attorneys for Hicks' estate filed a notice of settlement in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. The settlement amount was not disclosed, but will eventually become public since it must be approved by both the Hillsborough County Commission and a Hillsborough probate judge who will oversee the distribution of the funds to Hicks' children.

Under the terms of their earlier settlement with the Sheriff's Office, Hicks' children are barred from discussing the circumstances of his death. Vernon Slater, a close friend of Hicks, said he was less concerned about the dollar amount of the settlement than with what he sees as a lack of accountability among public officials for the incident.

While the Sheriff's Office performed a detailed internal review of Hicks' jail stay and identified multiple public and private employees who made mistakes, no deputies were formally investigated or disciplined. All of the public employees involved in the incident kept their jobs.

"The part that was really sad to me was that they never accepted responsibility," Slater said. "They threw out a few dollars, but that's never going to make up for a life."

Hicks, 51, was arrested after his car veered into a guardrail on Interstate 275 near Bearss Avenue in May 2012. Already showing signs of impairment, the popular youth baseball coach was arrested by Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Richard Guzman when he did not respond to orders to exit his car.

Over the next two days Hicks' stroke symptoms went undiagnosed and untreated in Hillsborough County jails. During much of that time he lay on the floor of his jail cell, unable to move the left side of his body.

After about 36 hours, he was found lying in his own urine and rushed to Tampa General Hospital, where doctors immediately diagnosed him with an ischemic stroke. He died within three months from complications.

After the Tampa Bay Times reported in July on the circumstances surrounding Hicks' death, the Florida Department of Health began an investigation of the medical care he received.

An internal review of the incident by fire rescue officials faulted a paramedic for "not using the proper medical protocols that would have led him to have the patient transported … to the hospital," instead releasing Hicks into Guzman's custody.

The suit states that because of fire rescue workers' conduct and Guzman's actions, Hicks "was delayed in receiving the proper medical treatment for his stroke, which caused him to suffer brain injury, enter into a coma, and ultimately die."

Paul Rebein, a lawyer representing Hicks' estate, declined to comment on the settlement until it is finalized. Attorneys for Guzman, Hillsborough County and the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles did not return calls.

Under Florida law, a payment greater than $100,000 would have to go to state legislators for approval. The state sets a $300,000 cap on government payouts for wrongful-death claims, and the Sheriff's Office has already paid $200,000.

Court documents give no indication that the government agencies involved plan to seek such approval, suggesting the settlement is approximately $100,000 or less.

Veteran Tampa litigator Barry Cohen, who was not involved in the Hicks case, said the state Legislature rarely approves legal settlements in excess of $300,000. As a private company, Armor Correctional — which paid Hicks' heirs $800,000 as part of a separate agreement earlier this year — was the likeliest source of cash, Cohen said.

"That's a deep pocket you can go after, and at least the family got some money," he said.

Allen Hicks died within three months of being taken to jail.

Allen Hicks died within three months of being taken to jail.

County and state tentatively settle wrongful death claims for Tampa stroke victim 09/13/13 [Last modified: Friday, September 13, 2013 11:08pm]
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