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Tampa stroke victim's heirs will receive $105,000 from county, state

TAMPA — Hillsborough County, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and a state Highway Patrol trooper have agreed to pay $105,000 to the heirs of a Tampa man who suffered a fatal stroke that went untreated for more than 36 hours after he first had contact with emergency and law enforcement officials.

At a meeting Wednesday, Hills­borough County commissioners agreed to pay $52,500 to the estate of Allen Daniel Hicks Sr. to settle a federal lawsuit stemming from the actions of county fire rescue officials. The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and Trooper Richard Guzman will be paying an additional $52,500, according to county documents and Hicks' attorney.

Hicks, 51, was arrested in May 2012 after his car veered off Interstate 275 near Bearss Avenue. A popular youth baseball coach, he was found parked haphazardly against a guardrail, speaking incoherently and not responding to commands to exit his car. After being examined by county paramedics, he was arrested by Guzman on a charge of obstructing an officer.

Dragging his left leg and unable to use the left side of his body, Hicks was wheeled into the Orient Road Jail, where he was booked without a medical screening. After a day and a half he was found lying in his own urine in his cell and taken to Tampa General Hospital, where he was diagnosed with a severe ischemic stroke. He went into a coma and died within three months.

Earlier this year, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and Armor Correctional Health Services — the South Florida company that provides medical services to jail inmates — agreed to pay Hicks' heirs $200,000 and $800,000 in wrongful-death settlements, respectively.

After the Tampa Bay Times reported in July on the events leading up to Hicks' death, the Florida Department of Health also opened an investigation into the medical care he received. The investigation is pending.

Rob Brazel, chief assistant county attorney for litigation, said Wednesday that his office considered the settlement amounts agreed to by the Sheriff's Office and Armor in its decision to settle the lawsuit brought by Hicks' heirs in federal court. He added that the county could have risked a more costly penalty by taking the case before a jury.

"We certainly feel like we had a strong defense. But you have to weigh that against the fact that Mr. Hicks died," Brazel said.

The settlement was limited by Florida law, which sets a cap of $300,000 on wrongful-death claims for incidents involving multiple government agencies. The state Legislature must approve payments above that amount, but rarely does so, leading most plaintiffs to accept settlements at or below the cap.

The money paid to Hicks' heirs will hit the cap, totaling $300,000 from the Sheriff's Office, the county and the state. A nominal $5,000 will also be paid to settle the claim against Guzman, said Paul Rebein, the estate's lawyer.

"That's the maximum we could get under the cap," Rebein said. "We felt that the case was worth more, but that's what we were stuck with."

Including the settlement from the jail's private medical contractor, the final sum paid to Hicks' children as a result of his death will be just over $1.1 million. Under the terms of the settlement with the Sheriff's Office and Armor Correctional, Hicks' heirs are barred from discussing the circumstances of his death.

Tampa stroke victim's heirs will receive $105,000 from county, state 10/02/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 2, 2013 11:12pm]
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