Judge OKs new trial on damage amount in wrongful death case against San Diego County
A federal judge has ruled that a new trial may be held to determine how much money should be awarded to the family of a man who died following his arrest by San Diego County sheriff's deputies seven years ago.
The ruling issued this week from U.S. District Judge Marilyn Huff stems from an $85 million award by a San Diego federal jury in March to the family of 32-year-old Lucky Phounsy, who died following his April 13, 2015, arrest in Santee.
Phounsy's family alleged in its lawsuit that while in the midst of a mental health crisis, he was shocked with a stun gun, repeatedly struck, and hogtied by responding deputies.
Phounsy was later placed in an ambulance while handcuffed and strapped to a gurney, where he went into cardiac arrest, the family alleged. He died a few days later at a hospital.
The suit alleged the deputies escalated the situation by agitating an already paranoid Phounsy, who was suffering from delusions that someone was going to harm him and his family.
Jurors found the county and former deputy Richard Fischer liable. The lawsuit alleged Fischer accompanied Phounsy in the ambulance and "forcibly restrained" his head and torso by holding him down on the gurney, which kept him from being able to adequately breathe.
Huff denied defense motions for a new trial regarding San Diego County and Fischer's liability in the death. The judge wrote that a reasonable jury could conclude from the evidence presented at trial that Fischer used excessive force on a restrained Phounsy and that Fischer "lacked training on how to avoid using excessive force on a restrained individual."
However, she granted a motion for another trial that will solely decide how much should be awarded in wrongful death damages.
The county argued the $85 million award far exceeded amounts awarded in similar cases.
Huff wrote in her ruling, "Considering the entire record, the size of the jury's wrongful death award is far out of proportion to the evidence..."
A new trial date has not been set.