Preventable deaths are always devastating, but it is important to use them as learning experiences. In 2013, a Maryland man with Down syndrome died from asphyxiation after an altercation with three off-duty sheriff deputies when they attempted to remove him from a movie cinema. A settlement was reached in the civil action brought by the family of Robert Saylor for $1.9 million. The named defendants all denied liability in the incident that revealed insufficient training standards regarding how to engage those who have such disabilities.
Saylor, who was 26-years-old at the time, was 5' 6” tall and weighed 300 pounds. Theatre management contacted security after accusing Saylor of staying to watch another movie without paying. His caretaker, who had stepped outside the theatre, returned to find the officers requesting that he exit the theatre. She claims to have told the officers that he did not like to be touched. The three officers ended up wrestling with him after he refused to leave and inadvertently fractured his larynx which led to his death by suffocation. An internal department investigation was completed and a grand jury chose not to indict the officers.
Of the $1.9 million total, $800,000 is to be paid by the officers, $645,000 by the state of Maryland, and the balance by the managing company whether the incident occurred. As a result of this tragedy, Frederick County implemented an enhanced training program that provided education regarding engaging those with mental disabilities. Those deemed to be mentally disabled typically are those with an IQ of less than 70.
The manner of death was deemed as a homicide and the poor judgment of the responding deputies was not in question. Initially, the defendants attempted to claim their right to governmental immunity that would shield them from such civil actions, which was denied. An internal investigation by the department did not find that criminal charges would be appropriate.
Down Syndrome (DS)
DS is a chromosomal disorder that leads to what is now referred to as an intellectual disability. Those with the disorder have IQs between 50 and 70. Robert Saylor was believed to have an IQ of closer to 40. His family described his personality as “friendly and loveable;” however, they acknowledged that he could become angry and stubborn. Those with DS are unable to properly assess situations and the risks that may be involved.
Maryland Wrongful Death
State law allows for survivors to pursue damages through a claim of wrongful death against those responsible on behalf of the deceased.
Other aspects of the statutes include:
- A wrongful act is one that would have allowed the deceased to pursue a personal injury claim if they had lived
- Typically, cases are brought by spouses or children of the deceased; however, if there is no spouse or child the law allows for another party to do so
- Typically, a three-year statute of limitations applies in Maryland
- Plaintiffs may pursue economic losses and noneconomic damages
- Examples of economic losses include loss of support and benefits, funeral expenses, etc.
- Noneconomic damages include emotional distress, mental anguish, loss of companionship, etc.
- Damages may be awarded proportionally among beneficiaries
- There are no limits (caps) on economic damages, but noneconomic damages were limited to $500,000 back in 1994 and are increased annually by $15,000