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$6.2 Million Judgment for California Deputies Negligence Causing Arrestee Injuries Affirmed

The court’s February 2, 2021, opinion was issued in an appeal by the defendants after a jury found for David Collins on his negligence claims. The jury awarded Collins a total of $12,617,6744 in damages. The trial court reduced the award to $6,261,174 based on the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act of 1995 (MICRA) and for a $2.75 million pre-trial settlement from four doctors employed by Palomar Health.

As PLN previously reported on this case, Collins, 30, was sick in the days before his November 18, 2016, arrest. (See PLN, March 2020.)  Several officers responded to a 911 call from Collins, including deputies Davis Sanchez and Matthew Chavez. The deputies assumed Collins was drunk and left. A short while later, Collins wandered outside and fell. A neighbor called 911 and paramedics arrived.

Just minutes later, Sanchez and Chavez arrived. When Sanchez arrived, he arrested Collins before they had finished their evaluation of him. Nurse Jonathan Symonds evaluated Collins and determined it was safe for him to be jailed. Nurse Roela Carolino examined Collins the next morning after he fell in his cell. After he fell in his cell and was knocked unconscious, he was released from jail and transported by ambulance to a hospital.

Collins was found to have a subarachnoid hemorrhage, or brain bleed, to his frontal lobe. He sustained serious brain injuries that left him impaired and with difficulty communicating.

On appeal, the defendants raised several issues. First, they argued that Collins’s negligence claim had to fail because the deputies had a reasonable basis to arrest him because they believed Collins was intoxicated. The appellate court disagreed.

It pointed to testimony that it was common police procedure to allow paramedics sufficient time to assess a subject prior to arrest when there is no threat to emergency personnel. The evidence showed the paramedics were on scene less than five minutes when the deputies arrived. About two minutes after their arrival, the deputies interrupted the paramedics’ exam, handcuffed Collins, and said, “We’ll take it from here.” Therefore, the deputies could be held liable for negligently interfering with the paramedic’s assessment.

The defendants also argued to issues related to jury instructions. As to the first, there was no error in the trial court instructing the jury to include damages for the injuries Collins sustained in the hospital. The second issue argued the trial court erred by failing to instruct the jury that “A public employee is not liable for any injury proximately caused by another prisoner or any injury to a prisoner.” The appellate court found no error, for such an instruction would be an improper statement of law under California law.

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Related legal case

Collins v. Cnty. of San Diego