Injured jail officer gets $4.4 million
A nationwide architectural firm on Monday agreed to pay $4 million to a former El Dorado County corrections officer injured in a 1992 fall caused by a poorly design cooling system at the South Lake Tahoe jail.
The settlement came on what what was to have been the start of the punitive damage phase of litigation in El Dorado County Superior Court.
The jury had already ruled on March 31 that the architects, Hennigan, Durham, Richardson, Inc., demonstrated professional neglect based on malice, fraud and oppression.
The verdict also included $3.9 million in compensatory damages and made plaintiffs William and Cindy Davis of Somerset eligible for punitive damages.
The Davises accepted only $500,000 in punitive damages, because they were satisfied with the compensatory judgment, said their attorney, Roger Dreyer of Sacramento-based Dreyer, Babich, Buccola and Callahan.
“My clients had a desire to get this all behind them,” Dreyer said Monday. “They felt validated and vindicated by the jury.”
The compensatory damages alone are believed to be the largest award ever by a South Lake Tahoe jury.
Alan L. Bender, Inc., a Sacramento based general contractor and codefendant in the lawsuit, was held liable for about $400,000 of the compensatory claims but no punitive damages.
Between compensatory and punitive damages the architectural firm owes the plaintiffs about $4 million.
The firm was contracted by the county in 1989 to design expansion and renovations at the jail. The general contractor oversaw construction that occurred between 1991 and 1993.
Davis slipped in a puddle of water in the then-newly built control room on Dec. 19, 1992.
The puddle was caused by a leaking valve on pipes for the recently installed jail cooling system.
The architects and the general contractor discovered a flaw in the freeze protection system of the pipes in May 1991. However, officials from these companies were unable to resolve the problem, which was ultimately ruled by the jury as the cause of Davis’ injuries.
Davis, now 41, suffered two herniated disks during the fall, and he underwent three spinal operations in the years that followed, Dreyer said.
He has not worked as a jail officer since his fall and continues to experience limited mobility. The injuries also left Davis unable to continue his work as a volunteer firefighter and reserve police officer, Dreyer added.
El Dorado County reportedly paid Davis about $64,000 in worker’s compensation following the accident.
However, since the jury ruled that the county was not negligent, Davis will reimburse the county from the money he was awarded.
Meanwhile, the jail cooling system was reportedly repaired after the accident.
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