The amount of money awarded by a jury to family members of a Baton Rouge man who died following a 2008 car crash with a Baton Rouge police officer was cut in half on Thursday by a state appellate court to $500,000, the maximum amount allowed by law.
The jury in the case originally awarded the sons of Nelson Dakmak Sr. $1 million after it found in 2011 that Baton Rouge police Lt. Stephen C. Tibbetts, a sergeant at the time, was at fault for the crash that killed Dakmak.
The crash happened on Feb. 2, 2008, when Dakmak’s vehicle was struck by Tibbetts’ speeding patrol car as Dakmak was making a left turn on Airline Highway between Goodwood Boulevard and Old Hammond Highway.
Dakmak’s spine was severed during the crash, and he died about three months later. But the jury still found the crash caused Dakmak to suffer injuries that led to his death.
The Louisiana 1st Circuit Court of Appeal ruled Thursday that the $1 million award should be reduced to $500,000 because, by state law, that is the highest amount any state or political subdivision must pay for personal injury damages per injured person.
In addition to the $500,000 award, the Court of Appeal found the Police Department also is still liable for the $30,000 it awarded to Dakmak’s three sons. They were awarded $10,000 each.
Dakmak filed the suit shortly before he died in hospice care. The suit then was amended to name his sons as the plaintiffs in the suit.
Evidence collected from the black box of Tibbetts’ police car showed he was driving 92 mph without an active siren or flashing lights in a 50 mph speed limit zone just before the crash.
Tibbetts let off the gas 3.5 seconds before braking and striking Dakmak’s vehicle at 59 mph, the black box evidence showed, according to the Court of Appeal’s ruling.
Tibbetts testified he was trying to catch up to a vehicle that matched the description of a stolen vehicle when the crash occurred.
It’s unclear whether any further appeals will be made by either party.
Serving on the 1st Circuit panel that heard the case were Judges James E. Kuhn, Toni M. Higginbotham and Mitchell R. Theriot.
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