California Municipalities Sued in Tragic Police Funeral-Procession Death

Officer Andrew Garton of the Hawthorne, California, Police Department died tragically on May 26, 2011, from injuries suffered while serving in the funeral motorcade of a Manhattan Beach policeman who had died of cancer. Garton was the first police officer ever killed in the line of duty on the suburban Hawthorne force.

Garton and Officer Rex Fowler from neighboring El Segundo were working together on motorcycles to clear intersections ahead of the procession when they collided, fatally throwing Garton onto an oncoming vehicle. Officer Fowler received a broken left leg.

The next day California Governor Jerry Brown issued a statement of condolence and ordered that Capitol flags be flown at half-staff.

Officer Garton of Rossmoor was only 44 and leaves behind his wife Tracy Garton and two young sons. Hundreds of law-enforcement officers attended the subsequent funeral for Garton, who was popular and admired by his peers.

Wrongful Death Claim

Garton’s widow reportedly filed $25 million in legal claims on her own and her sons’ behalves on November 4, 2011, for damages against the cities and police departments of Manhattan Beach and El Segundo, claiming their negligence and recklessness caused Garton’s wrongful death.

According to the Los Alamitos – Seal Beach Patch, the claims allege that Fowler drove his motorcycle negligently in the course of his employment causing the accident and subsequent death of Officer Garton, and that El Segundo negligently hired, trained and supervised Fowler.

The Easy Reader News reports that the claim against Manhattan Beach alleges negligent planning and supervision of the procession. Reportedly the claims assert that Tracy Garton is suffering the loss of her husband’s financial support, companionship and affection.

In California, a public entity like a city is usually not liable for injuries caused by its employees, but the law specifically provides that a public entity can be liable for an injury or death from the negligent operation of a motor vehicle by a working employee.

Workers’ Compensation

Tracy Garton also brought a workers’ compensation claim against the city of Hawthorne, reports the Daily Breeze. California law provides that police officers are covered by workers’ compensation if their respective governmental authorities adopt resolutions that the police are employees.

The city of Hawthorne and its police department could potentially be liable under California workers’ compensation law for burial expenses up to $2,000, injuries up to $5,000 and death benefits. The death benefit provides a lump sum payment that depends on the number of dependents of the deceased (for example, three or more total dependents will receive $320,000). Also, minor children of police officers receive generous ongoing death-benefit payments until the youngest is 19 years old, if still in high school.

After Tracy Garton filed her workers’ compensation claim for her husband’s premature death, the city filed routine claims on November 17 for almost $720,000 in reimbursement against Manhattan Beach and El Segundo. Not surprisingly, Hawthorne police and officials expressed reservations about this move given the nature of the tragedy.

The California Highway Patrol is still investigating the accident.

If your loved one was in California law enforcement and died in the line of duty, or if you or a family member is harmed by the actions of a California public employee, be sure to consult as early as possible with an experienced personal injury attorney about your potential legal remedies.