SF may settle in wrongful death lawsuits

November 4, 2008 6:42:05 PM PST
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors gave preliminary approval Tuesday to financial settlements totaling more than $1.8 million in two wrongful death lawsuits filed against the city.

Matt Dorsey, a spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera, said the board gave approval on first reading to a $1,695,000 settlement with the family of David Douma, 61, of Michigan, and a $150,000 settlement with the family of Nicholas Torrico, 26, of Seattle.

The settlements will not become final until they are approved by the board on a second reading and signed by Mayor Gavin Newsom, Dorsey said. Douma was injured in a San Francisco taxicab crash Nov. 11, 2006, and died of complications in Michigan about a month later.

His family's San Francisco Superior Court lawsuit alleged that misdiagnosis and improper care at San Francisco General Hospital, where he was initially treated, contributed to his death.

Torrico's family sued in federal court after he fell to his death from a rooftop during a failed rescue attempt by a San Francisco firefighter Oct. 12, 2006.

The lawsuit alleged that fire Lt. Victor Wyrsch was reckless and ignored fire department command structure and safety protocol when he grabbed Torrico in an attempt to pull him off the ledge of a four-story Nob Hill apartment building.

Torrico had climbed up the building's fire escape, removed his shoes, and sat on a slanted tile outcropping when Wyrsch tried to pull him to safety. During a struggle, Wyrsch lost his grip and Torrico fell to the ground and died, according to court documents.

Fire officials defended Wyrsch's actions, and a San Francisco medical examiner's report concluded that Torrico's death was either an accident or suicide and that there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing on Wyrsch's part.

The proposed $150,000 settlement of the case was recommended by Herrera and by fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White, although the city Fire Commission voted unanimously not to recommend the settlement.

Dorsey said the city doesn't admit to liability in either of the settlements.

But he said, "In both cases, we believe the settlements are fair and prudent and we hope they will enable the families to find some measure of closure in what we know are difficult tragedies."


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