Luau death lawsuit goes forward

Published 11:01 pm Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A $5 million lawsuit against the city of Suffolk that stems from an elderly woman’s death in August 2009 can proceed to trial, a judge ruled Tuesday.

The estate of Elizabeth Newby is suing the city for negligence and wrongful death as a result of Newby’s mortal injury at a city-sponsored event.

Police allege Velma D. Brown pushed Newby and another senior at the Senior Luau in August 2009 while they were in line for entry into the event. Newby suffered a broken hip and died two weeks later from “complications of traumatic left hip fracture,” according to her death certificate.

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Brown has been deemed unfit for trial and is undergoing care to be restored to competency.

Denise Tynes, Newby’s daughter and administrator of her estate, filed the suit on behalf of the estate.

Ross Greene, an attorney with Pender and Coward, presented the city’s case at Tuesday’s hearing.

“She was injured by the acts of a third party,” he told Judge Rodham T. Delk. “Why should the city be liable in any way for the criminal act of a third party? There’s no factual basis for liability here.”

The senior event where the fall occurred was held at the Suffolk National Guard Armory and sponsored by the Suffolk Parks and Recreation department. The lawsuit alleges the city acted negligently when it failed to provide police officers for crowd control and when it allowed its employees to pick Newby up from the floor and place her in a chair.

A response filed by the city this fall stated the lawsuit lacked evidence to establish its claims and claimed immunity for city employees under the state’s “Good Samaritan statute,” which prevents people who attempt to render emergency care or assistance from being held liable for civil damages.

Verbena Askew, attorney for the plaintiff, said her client is demanding a jury trial.

“We want the citizens of Suffolk to decide this case,” she said.