Court overturns $1.1 million dollar death award for widow and 18 kids
This week Donnetta Berrien's wrongful death award under the Federal Tort Claims Act, arising out of her husband's death on a military base, was thrown out. Her husband died when an improperly built and poorly maintained gutter fell off the Selfridge Air National Guard Base liquor store, striking him in the head. The trial judge ruled that even though the building was built and maintained by independent contractors, the federal government was negligent in failing to discover the dangerous condition during the 14 years after it was improperly constructed. The judge ruled that as the owner and possessor of the building, the government owed a non-delegable duty to correct hazards which it knew about or which it should have known about.
On appeal, the judge's decision was reversed. The higher court ruled that the judge erred in concluding that the government "should have discovered" the design, construction and maintenance issues with the gutter.