Cop Drops Negligence Lawsuit Against Family of Boy She Rescued

In one of the more outrageous personal injury lawsuit stories in recent news, a Casselberry, Florida police sergeant named Andrea Eichhorn has dropped a lawsuit she filed against the family of a 1-year-old boy for negligence while she was trying to save his life.

In January 2007, 1-year-old Joey Cosmillo fell into a pool in his family's backyard while unattended, and when he was pulled out of the pool by his mother a short time later, he was not breathing.

When an ambulance with rescuers arrived, they were able to save the child's life, but it was too late to prevent major damage from happening. As a result of the near-drowning, young Joey suffered permanent brain damage and cannot walk, talk or swallow on his own.

Around eight months later, in early October, Sgt. Andrea Eichhorn, who appeared on the scene with the rescue team, filed a lawsuit against the Cosmillo family for negligence, alleging that she suffered a severe slip and fall injury to her knee in a puddle of water that was left on the floor when the family brought the child inside.

Though Eichhorn's medical bills were paid and she was put on medical leave for two months, she claims that the city amounts were not enough, and she is seeking an undisclosed sum from the family. In her suit, she claims both that the family failed to adequately maintain the safety of the house or warn her of the danger of the water, and that their negligence in not childproofing the pool in the first place that resulted in a frantic 911 call also led to her personal injury.

Meanwhile, the family who was the target of the lawsuit was still too shaken up to discuss the case with local media. Their son currently lives in a nursing home and receives 24-hour care.

Shortly after the story ran in local newspapers and on television news, the public outcry began. Hundreds of residents of Casselberry and surrounding towns began calling and e-mailing the Casselberry Police Department and City Hall, demanding that the lawsuit against the innocent family be stopped.

In response, the police chief came out against the lawsuit in a press release, explicitly saying, "As Chief of Police I do not support the lawsuit filed by Sgt. Eichhorn and her attorney." The release also declares that the Chief of Police "recommended to Sgt. Eichhorn that she not file legal action against the homeowners since her on the job injury would be fully covered by the City's workers compensation coverage."

The PR move by the city after the outcry worked as intended. After the department announced that Eichhorn would be placed on departmental leave, her lawyer declared that they had decided to drop the lawsuit.

For many of the local residents affected by the story, as well as those nationally who were outraged at what they saw as a blatant attempt at exploiting a tragic situation, the matter was settled. But now that the lawsuit has been dropped, even more issues arise about the way in which the situation has progressed.

Over the past few decades, the concept of the frivolous lawsuit has received so much backlash that it's clear the public won't stand for abuse of the system. At this point, the court of public opinion seems to deal with frivolous suits in a most judicious and efficient manner.

Article titles like "Officer's Suit Elicits Opposition" and "Cop Ends Slip-and-Fall Lawsuit as Public Cries Foul" (Orlando Sentinel), "A Lawsuit that Can't Be Believed" (South Florida Sun-Sentinel), and-my favorite-on the political blog, "Another Reason NOT to Call the Cops," demonstrate that journalists, columnists and editors take the common-sense approach in understanding the positions of their loyal readers.

And the hundreds of phone calls flooding the Casselberry Police Department and City hall show that members of the public-at-large are fed up with frivolous lawsuits and will lash out against those who perpetuate them, especially those who are in public office or public service.

Eichhorn's complaint aroused even more offense because of the fact that the child involved provided a perfect visual image of innocence, branding Eichhorn as a money-grubbing monster. Of course, the child's brain impairment and necessary care as a result of the pool accident was a tragic loss. However, what if Eichhorn did have a legitimate claim to injury compensation, despite the fact that her suit was directed toward a family still dealing with an unfathomable loss?

The police department investigation into the matter certainly aroused some suspicion for what it uncovered. Early reports had Eichhorn painted as a model cop, and police called her past record of service "unblemished." However, when the police began a more thorough internal investigation into the matter, they uncovered a past indiscretion, also involving finances.

In 1998, Eichhorn apparently used a false name while working an off-duty job, apparently to hide income received from this extra job. The punishment for the discrepancy was minor-a small pay cut and a six-month ban on off-duty jobs-but the revelation of the incident as a whole fit Eichhorn more into the greedy role in which the public was casting her.

After all that transpired, and the police chief's comments condemning the suit, it seems more than convenient that the police "discovered" this past incident, which had reportedly not been contained in the personnel file that police used when they called her "unblemished."

Also, it would not be difficult to argue that the department's move to suspend Eichhorn was a strong-arm tactic designed to force her to give up the case. Now on leave from the force, Eichhorn, for right or wrong, seems to be the victim of a public outcry and public relations move that both served to swallow up whatever legitimacy her lawsuit had or any right she could have demonstrated for compensation.

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