An appeals court ruled Friday that the parents of two sisters who werekilled when their car was rammed by a fleeing suspect can sue the law
enforcement agencies responsible for the chase.
The justices sitting on the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Lakeland said Lawrence and Ada Brown of Palm Harbor can continue their legal battle against the Pinellas County Sheriff's Department, Pinellas Park and Kenneth City.
"The Browns won, the government lost," their Tampa attorney, Stevan T. Northcutt, said. "We took the position that if the law enforcement officers hadn't chased the fellow for 25 miles through 34 red lights, that he wouldn't have been running that red light (where the Browns' daughters were killed) at 90 miles an hour. . . . This is the worst case on the books."
Judith Brown, 20, and Susan Brown, 23, were killed in the early morning of June 24, 1984, as their vehicle crossed U.S. 19 while traveling on State Road 584.
Their car was hit by a car driven by John Joseph Deady, who was being pursued by more than a dozen law enforcement cars from several departments, the Browns' lawsuit states. The chase began after Deady, who also died in the crash, ran a red light on Pasadena Avenue in South Pasadena.
Last spring, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Ray Ulmer threw out the case after attorneys for the Sheriff's Department and the two municipalities argued they had immunity from civil liability as governments or governmental agencies. They also said the suspect, not law enforcement officers, was responsible for the deaths of the Browns' daughters.
But the appeal court disagreed, saying "the alleged facts of this case present a more egregious case for governmental liability than do those shown by the opinions in any of the other such cases."
Assistant Pinellas County Attorney Howard Bernstein said the Sheriff's Department could ask the appeal court to rehear the case or take it to the Florida Supreme Court. He said he will decide what to do in a week or two after discussing the case with the attorneys from the two municipalities.