A federal judge recently dismissed three out of five civil claims in a wrongful death suit brought against President Donald Trump and two Capitol Hill rioters in the purported insurrection. The suit was in connection with the death of a US Capitol police officer Brian Sicknick during the January 6th protests. Officer Sicknick, who was only 42 years old at the time, was sprayed with bear spray by two rioters. He tragically passed away after suffering a stroke the following day.
The civil suit was brought by Sandra Garza, the girlfriend of the deceased officer. Ms. Garza brought five civil claims against President Donald Trump. These include Wrongful Death, two counts of Negligence Per Se, a Survival Act claim, and Conspiracy to violate the officer’s Civil Rights.
The wrongful death claim is a DC state law being heard in federal court. Under the law, the “spouse or domestic partner” of the decedent can bring a wrongful death claim for their own personal loss. The theory is that if your spouse dies, you would be entitled to damages for the loss of companionship. The definition of a spouse is clear. There must be a legal marriage. A close girlfriend does not pass the threshold.
A domestic partnership is a bit trickier. A domestic partnership is the co-habitation of two people to confer certain legal rights. Officer Sicknick named Ms. Garza as his domestic partner in his will. However, they never went the additional step of having the state formally recognize the domestic partnership. Thus, the federal judge dismissed the wrongful death claim because Ms. Garza lacked standing to bring the action.
Negligence Per Se:
Negligence Per Se is a legal theory which, in essence, says that if you violate a regulation that creates a specific duty of care, you automatically breach the duty. A typical example is a general contractor who violates the building code and the house collapses. In that case, you would not have to prove the contractor was negligent. You just have to prove he violated the regulation. The violation is negligence “in itself”.
In this case, Ms. Garza claimed that President Donald Trump’s violation of DC’s anti-riot laws during the January 6th protests, claimed by some to be an insurrection, triggered negligence per se. However, the federal judge ruled that the anti-riot laws are only general prohibitions. The court held that they are not regulations that conferred a specific duty. As such, these two counts were dismissed as well.
Survival Claim Action:
Ms. Garza was, however, permitted to proceed with the DC Survival Claim action associated with the January 6th protests against President Donald Trump. A survival claim is different than a wrongful death claim. The survival claim is brought on behalf of the estate itself. In essence, the Estate of Officer Sicknick would be able to collect damages for his pain and suffering before his death and the loss of his life.
Ms. Garza was named the executor of Officer Sicknick’s will. Accordingly, she is able to bring the survival claim on behalf of the estate as the estate’s personal representative in the insurrection case. However, Ms. Garza would only be entitled to collect a judgement in the case if she was also named a beneficiary of the will. Otherwise, if the will did not name beneficiaries, Officer Sicknick would be intestate. The recovery would flow to his spouse (which he did not have), then his children (if any), and then his parents (if still alive).
Professional Rescuer’s Doctrine:
As an aside, the defendants also moved to dismiss the insurrection case under the DC Professional Rescuer’s Doctrine. In NH and MA, this is known as the “Fireman’s Rule”. The rule states that a professional rescuer (police officer, fireman, EMT, etc.) cannot recover for injuries he sustained during a professional rescue. The theory is because he “assumed the risk” of the danger of the job.
He would be entitled to worker’s compensation, but not in a third-party tort claim against President Donald Trump. The federal judge reserved ruling on this issue until more evidence came out about whether the unique circumstances of the January 6th protests was something that foreseeable to the US Capitol police.
Fill out the form or call us at (603) 883-4100 to schedule your free consultation.