Tampa may pay $3.5M to family
A 1998 encounter with police has left a mentally disabled man in a persistent vegetative state.
By BILL VARIAN, Times Staff Writer
Published December 14, 2007
TAMPA - Nearly a decade after a violent encounter with police left a mentally disabled man in a persistent vegetative state, his family may finally receive help for his long-term care.
The Tampa City Councilhas agreed to pay $3.5-million Thursday to settle a lawsuit with the family of Robert Magyar, 44.
Magyar had been wandering along Interstate 275in 1998 when he was picked up by a police officer and driven to a nearby gas station. Magyar said he wasn't feeling well, so the officer called for an ambulance.
Before the ambulance arrived, Magyar, not wanted for any crime, ended up beneath a pile of police officers, unconscious. He has been in a persistent vegetative state since, with a lawsuit that followed winding its way through the courts for years. It was finally slated for trial in March.
City Attorney David Smith said the family initially sought between $25-million and $30-million.
If approved in court, Magyar would receive half of the settlement within 90 days and the rest by December 2008. The money will come from a tax-funded risk pool maintained by the city.
The vote by the council was 6-0, with Charlie Miranda absent.
Magyar lived with his mother in Tampa and worked at a pet-grooming shop she owned.
Around 11 a.m. Oct. 18, 1998, officer Salvatore Mazza spotted him walking along the interstate, seemingly oblivious to traffic. Magyar told him that he had diabetes and high-blood pressure, wasn't feeling well and needed to get to a hospital.
So Mazza drove him to a nearby gas station to call for an ambulance. As they waited, a second officer arrived, and Magyar began expressing concern that they intended to harm him.
When he tried to leave, the officers restrained him. More police arrived, with several ending atop Magyar, who was subjected to "pain compliance techniques" before passing out.
While he regained consciousness in an ambulance, he had suffered cardiac and respiratory arrest and never recovered.
The family fought an initial court ruling that the seven officers it sued could not be held liable for actions carried out in the line of duty. An appellate court subsequently ruled that the officers forfeited their immunity, because of their use of excessive force, given the circumstances.
All seven officers were cleared of wrongdoing in internal affairs investigations.
Magyar receives around-the-clock care from his mother and sister at their home in Tennessee.
Family attorney William Daniel, said the settlement amount was in the range of estimates of what it will cost for his long-term care at home.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this story. Bill Varian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 813 226-3387.