A Sacramento federal magistrate judge handed down his decision last week regarding a summer vacation turned tragedy. A 9-year-old boy was visiting the Lassen Volcanic National Park with his family in July of 2009, when the boy and his sister sat on a retaining wall in order to take some pictures. The wall quickly gave way, throwing both of the children down the mountainside, killing the boy and injuring his sister. The family filed a wrongful death and personal injury lawsuit against the park for its negligence in failing to maintain the wall.
In his ruling, the judge held that negligence on behalf of National Park Service officials caused the boy’s death when the wall gave way. He also reprimanded the park’s superintendent for making several fraudulent statements regarding evidence and interview attempts, and the alleged destruction of critical evidence relevant to the case.
The findings relate to destruction of documents during the discovery (evidence collection) portion of the case, including the shredding of an internal memorandum regarding the potential instability of the wall and other relevant documents. There were also damning statements from a governmental architect, and further evidence that the park superintendent lied about attempts to be interviewed by the park agency’s inspector. The wall was also torn down within weeks following the incident, further disallowing the inspector the opportunity to inspect the wall.
The magistrate judge recommended Wednesday that the district court judge, “enter an order, establishing for all purposes in this case, that (the United States) is deemed to have been negligent in causing the death” of Tommy an injury to his sister. It would be an uncommon occurrence for the district judge to reject the recommendations and findings of the magistrate judge, as the whole point of the system is to provide a more accessible forum that is equally capable of reaching non-biased decisions.
Governmental agencies are typically insulated from suit under the doctrine of sovereign immunity. This sort of shield from suit can only be overcome when there is a certain federal law allowing for claims to be filed, such as with the Federal Tort Claims Act, or when there is evidence that the government agent’s actions were carried on outside the scope of their employment, such as with an intentional action like assault or battery, and in some cases, like here, extreme negligence, and perhaps more. If you or a loved one has been hurt or killed as a result of a governmental agency’s agency, as in this case, you may have a valid personal injury or wrongful death claim, and you may be entitled to recover compensation for your damages.
The personal injury law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC has many years of experience in working with individuals and families who have suffered because of the wrongful death of a loved oner. Our dedicated attorneys have represented families who have suffered from wrongful deaths caused by car accidents, medical malpractice, hospital negligence and other traumatic events. If you believe that your loved one died because of the wrongful or negligent actions of another, please contact the hardworking wrongful death attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen by calling 1-800-654-1949 or by visiting our website, in order to schedule your initial free consultation.
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