Suit against city moves forward

Published 10:20 pm Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A wrongful-death lawsuit against the city moved forward Tuesday after more than an hour of motions by both sides.

The litigation was brought by the family of Elizabeth Newby, who was 83 when she died in August 2009 from complications of a traumatic hip fracture brought on from a fall.

The fall was allegedly caused when another woman, Velma Brown, pushed her. A criminal case against her has been held up while she undergoes mental treatment to make her competent to stand trial.

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The women were attending a senior luau event sponsored by the Suffolk Department of Parks and Recreation at the National Guard Armory on Godwin Boulevard.

Newby’s daughter, Denise Tynes, has sued the city for negligence and wrongful death, claiming the city acted negligently by failing to provide crowd control and by allowing employees to pick Newby up from the floor after her fall and place her in a chair.

Attorneys for both sides have filed numerous motions that needed to be heard Tuesday, including a demurrer by the city.

Attorney Ross Greene of Pender and Coward, who is working on the case for the city, argued that the plaintiff could not attempt to collect damages on two different claims and that the claim for attorney’s fees was not specific enough.

Verbena Askew, who is representing Tynes, said her client is not asking for attorney’s fees and said they have a right to plead both claims.

Judge William R. Savage III agreed, denying Greene’s demurrer.

In addition, both sides had filed motions to compel answers to questions they had asked about the case. Greene said Askew had not provided enough information about doctors who had treated Newby in the 10 years leading up to her death so he can subpoena her medical records.

“There’s nothing specific that would allow us to subpoena records,” he said.

But Askew said she had provided names of a number of medical facilities, which are all that she knew about.

“These are not mystery places,” Savage told Greene. “They’re well-known medical facilities. I think the answer has given you enough to get started.”

But to Askew, he added, “It’s not enough to say, ‘We don’t know.’ You’ve got to find some information and provide it.”

Also, the judge upheld an argument by Greene that he should not have to provide the date of birth and Social Security numbers for 14 city employees who were in the area at the time of the incident.

The judge further ruled that both the city and Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office should have to provide general information about the crime, Newby’s injuries and the identity of the investigating officer, but they do not have to provide the entire criminal case file.

“Police investigations are privileged,” Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Wiser said. “It’s a pending criminal matter at this point. There’s a need for the criminal process to be unadulterated.”