October 23, 2017
State Pays $25 Million to Family in Civil Rights Case
A Hammond, Indiana family’s lengthy legal battle ended in triumph earlier this year as the State paid $25 million to the family falsely accused of causing their 14-year old daughter’s death.
Roman and Lynnette Finnegan and their children had sued several Indiana Department of Child Services workers as well as State Police claiming their constitutional rights had been violated. The Finnegan family originally filed the lawsuit in 2008 following the death of Lynnette’s daughter, Jessica Salyer, in 2005.
Although Jessica’s death was due to a fatal prescription error by her family doctor, DCS and State Police employees wrongfully accused Lynnette and Roman of causing their daughter’s death. The Finnegans’ two other daughters were removed from their home and Mr. and Mrs. Finnegan were prosecuted on felony charges for her death.
The daughters remained in foster care for nine months while DCS employees ignored evidence demonstrating the doctor’s prescription error was responsible for Jessica’s death. As a result of the allegations, the Finnegan family was ripped apart, Roman Finnegan lost his job at the Indiana Department of Corrections, the family lost their home and many of their possessions, and Roman and Lynnette were stigmatized in their community as child killers.
After far too long, the daughters were returned to their home and the criminal charges were dismissed but the DCS employees persisted in substantiating abuse and neglect. It took a state court judge to unsubstantiate these accusations and when doing so, found that the DCS employees’ conduct was arbitrary, capricious and violated the constitutional rights of the Finnegan family.
The federal civil rights case was tried for three weeks in the Fall of 2015 in Hammond, Indiana. The Finnegans were represented in this trial by a team of lawyers led by Ron Waicukauski as lead trial counsel. Also playing key roles in the trial were Rich Waples of Indianapolis, Kevin Tankersley of Winamac and Heather Kirkwood of Seattle. The jury returned a $31 million verdict.
The verdict was appealed by the state employees. While on appeal, the Finnegans and the State Defendants agreed to the $25 million settlement. The settlement has now been paid by the State. This payment compensates Roman and Lynnette Finnegan and their three surviving children for violations of their rights under the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
Ron Waicukauski stated: “We are very pleased that the Finnegans have obtained a substantial measure of justice and now can bring closure to their family’s nightmare. We hope that this jury’s verdict and this settlement will help to deter other public officials from abusing the enormous power they have.”
The Indiana law firm of Price Waicukauski Joven & Catlin, LLC represents clients in complex litigation, including in cases of federal civil rights and abuse of power by public officials, legal malpractice, and business litigation.