Naples Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed Against DJJ Contractor

A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed against a Department of Juvenile Justice contractor in charge of driving a crowded van full of youths four years ago.floridacanal

The 25-year-old driver of that van died – along with a 17-year-old youth -after drowning when the van crashed into a canal. According to the Naples Daily News, an investigation by the DJJ revealed the driver had a history of problems. In addition to the six violations by the driver in connection to this crash, records showed he received 18 traffic tickets over the course of five years. He also lied on his employment application for the contractor, and he’d already been banned by the privately-run non-profit parent organization of the DJJ from driving any vehicles.

Yet he was behind the wheel that fateful day in December 2011 when the crash happened. The deceased teen’s mother filed legal action against both DJJ and the contractor the following year. Now, defendants in the case recently argued they could not be liable because the teen’s mother had signed a waiver prior to her son’s commitment to the facility. But a Collier Circuit judge rejected that theory, despite a recent Florida Supreme Court case that strengthened waiver protection in negligence actions. 

That case,  Sanislo v. Give Kids the World, Inc., the state supreme court upheld the validity of a liability waiver signed by a person who later suffered injury. The waiver in that case released a non-profit agency from “any and all claims and causes of action of any kind.”  That kind of language had previously been deemed overly-broad.

Naples personal injury lawyers know this was not excellent news for plaintiffs, but as the more recent case shows, the Sanislo verdict did not entirely block any chance of action in cases where there is a waiver.

As the attorney representing victims in this case explained, there were allegedly two high-ranking members of the private management organization that violated the contract with the state, and also violated the their individual contract as well as independent safety regulations.

Defendants in this case had argued that because the fatal crash didn’t stem from an intentional harmful act,the four-line waiver signed by the teen’s mother absolved them of responsibility.

Plaintiff’s attorney, however, argued the negligence of the contractor was so egregious, the four-sentence waiver was not enough to release the organization from liability. The judge agreed it should be a question of fact for a jury. A confidential settlement agreement was extended by plaintiffs to defendants, but no agreement has yet been reached, and neither has a trial date been set.

The teen was enrolled in a DJJ wilderness camp that was intended to help him turn his life around, according to news reports. The van was carrying seven at-risk youth, including the teen decedent, back from an athletic event earlier in the day. The teens enrolled in the program earned high school credit while helping to improve their behavior. Day trips like the one they were on had to be earned as a form of positive reinforcement.

The driver, of Cape Coral, failed to properly negotiate a 90-degree turn, resulting in the van overturning into the water. Six of the teens were able to escape and swim to safety. They were treated for non-life-threatening injuries. Plaintiff’s son, of Bonita Springs, were recovered by emergency responders and pronounced dead at the scene. Both had been wearing their seat belts.

In cases where the care of youth is entrusted to an organization, there is a special duty placed on that agency for supervision and care. When that duty is breached and injury or death results, legal action is appropriate.

If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7777 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.

Additional Resources:

Judge: Waiver signed by drowning victim’s mother doesn’t absolve contractor,  Oct. 29, 2015, by Jacob Carpenter, Naples Daily News

More Blog Entries:

Meher et al v. FIFA et al – Class Action Soccer Injury Lawsuit Results in Rule Changes, Dec. 8, 2015, Naples Wrongful Death Lawyer Blog