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Shapiro & Appleton

Virginia Beach Dismised From Lawsuit Over Homeless Man's Death

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The City of Virginia Beach has been dismissed from a $25 million lawsuit filed by the family of a homeless man killed on the beach by a city garbage truck, WAVY.com has reported.

On June 28, Michael Knockett, 52, was run over by a city owned truck while sleeping on a beach chair. Knockett's family filed a lawsuit against the city and the driver of the truck, and two other employees working on the truck.

In cases involving a truck or a commercial tractor trailer the driver's history is more relevant. A private employer can be brought into a lawsuit as a company is responsible for all negligence by its employee within the scope of the work, and for its own negligent hiring, training and supervision. The government gets off the hook in VA though in many circumstances.

At a hearing on January 13 in Virginia Beach, the city was removed from the action by a judge. The case may proceed against the individual city worker, but the standard of prove may be higher- to show gross negligence-for the family to recover.

"The city's absolutely immune for garbage collection. That's what was happening on the beach that day. It's a terrible tragedy that happened. The city feels deep regret, but at the end of the day, we have the responsibility to our taxpayers to defend the case vigorously," Deputy City Attorney Christopher Boynton told WAVY.

Knockett's family claimed Virginia Beach had employed the driver even though she had previous driving infractions and texted excessively on her cell phone while at work.

They  also claim distracted driving was a factor in the case because of the driver's alleged cell phone use.

The Hampton Roads cities of Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk and Virginia Beach paid about $7.5 million to more than 1,700 victims of accidents involving commercial vehiclesbetween 2004 and 2006, according to a Virginian-Pilot analysis.

Our firm has previously reported on a number of crashes involving city-operated vehicles or emergency vehicles including a crash involving an ambulance that killed a college senior. We have also successfully handled case for folks killed and hurt by various government entities.

The Knockett family's claim against the driver and the two other trash truck workers will be heard at a later date.

DM

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