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As reported recently in the Orlando Sentinel, CGWC attorney Nathan P. Carter obtained a settlement of $ 500,000 for the children of a woman killed in jail during the use of a “restraint chair” by Lake County Sheriff’s Department officers. Restraint chairs are devices used by some law enforcement officials in jails to gain control over unruly combative inmates. Typically, such devices utilize crisscrossing “safety” belts to restrain inmates to a reclining chair. In the case of the 100 pound and 5 foot 2 inch woman, who had a history of both medical and psychiatric disorders complicated by cocaine and methamphetamine abuse, the chair had been modified, using a leather belt as a restraint, a modification not approved by the manufacturer. The woman was later found dead, having been asphyxiated while apparently trying to wriggle free from the modified restraint chair.
The use of restraint chairs is controversial among law enforcement and prison officials due to the danger of asphyxiation. State prisons do not use restraint chairs for this reason, but other jail officials persist in using these dangerous devices to restrain allegedly disobedient or unruly inmates. Lake County now has a policy prohibiting the use of modified restraint chairs after CGWC prosecuted the lawsuit on behalf of the deceased woman’s family.
Extracting a settlement or recovering a verdict for more than the $ 100,000 limit set by Florida’s “sovereign immunity” law, which governs negligence lawsuits against state, county or city entities, is extraordinarily difficult and requires skilled and aggressive legal maneuvering by a firm with the experience, knowledge and resources to convince state, county or city officials that their liability could exceed the statutory limits.