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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

City settles lawsuits from police officer car accidents for $316,000

The city of Ocala is settling separate lawsuits stemming from car accidents caused by Ocala Police Department officers in 2021 for $316,000.

On Tuesday, Ocala City Council members approved a total of $316,000 to settle the lawsuits. During the meeting, City Attorney William E. Sexton indicated that the settlements were the “most strategically appropriate outcome” for the city.

“Risk management staff and the city attorney’s office, working through our outside counsel, have negotiated, what I believe, to be the most strategically appropriate outcome in this case,” said Sexton before he recommended approval.

According to court records, all three lawsuits were filed in March 2022, with the associated incidents having occurred in 2021.

The first incident took place on March 20, 2021, when Tiffany Melkonian and Michael Secki say an Ocala Police Department vehicle being driven by Anastasios Hajoglou crashed into their vehicle “at or near the intersection of NW 1st Avenue in Ocala.”

Ocala-based King Law Firm filed a complaint on behalf of Melkonian in the fifth judicial circuit court for Marion County, accusing Hajoglou of operating his vehicle “negligently and carelessly” so that it “collided with the vehicle.” A month later, King Law Firm filed another lawsuit on behalf of Secki in the same case.

The law firm argues that its clients suffered “permanent bodily injury,” “lost wages,” and incurred other expenses and damages.

Ocala police officer Anastasios Hajoglou walks a suspect wanted for attempted murder to a patrol vehicle in February 2022. (Photo: Ocala Police Department)

According to city records, the parties mediated the case in October 2023, which resulted in an impasse. Trial was scheduled for December 2024, but the city engaged in further negotiations and “conveyed a tentative global offer of $166,000” to avoid trial.

That offer was accepted by attorneys representing Melkonian and Secki.

In a third complaint also filed in March 2022 by attorneys from Orlando-based law firm Morgan & Morgan, Rachelle Williams and William H. Greene, Jr. say they were involved in a similar incident with a different officer working for the Ocala Police Department.

According to that lawsuit, Greene was driving a vehicle owned by a third party in the Summer of 2021 when he and Williams, who was his passenger, were struck “on NW 100th Street at or near the intersection of County Road 25A in Ocala” by a vehicle being driven by Boyce Tucker Rainey.

At the time of the accident, Rainey was operating the vehicle “in the course and scope of his employment” for the Ocala Police Department, according to the complaint.

According to city records, before a scheduled mediation in June 2023, attorneys for the plaintiffs made a last demand to settle the case “for sovereign immunity limits of $300,000.”

“After thorough negotiations at mediation, the city’s final offer was a global offer of $125,000. The plaintiffs final demand at mediation was $270,000, and mediation resulted in an impasse,” reads a memo from Sexton, Ocala City Manager Peter Lee, and HR & Risk Management Director Devan Kikendall to councilmembers.

In anticipation of trial, the parties engaged in negotiations and an offer of “$150,000” was accepted by Williams and Greene.

In both cases, the officers “violated the plaintiffs’ right-of-way,” prompting staff to recommend settlement to avoid trial.

“Given the city’s apparent liability for the accident, the issue at trial would not be whether the city is responsible for the plaintiffs’ damages; rather, the issue would be the extent of the Plaintiffs’ damages,” reads a memo from city staff. “An agreement to settle this matter at this time will avoid the additional costs of continued litigation, including attorney’s fees, expert witness fees, and other expenses, and will prevent the possibility of an adverse judgment at jury trial in excess of the settlement amount.”

Now that the settlements have been approved, the plaintiffs will be issued checks for the amounts and have agreed to release the city of any further liability.