County Must Pay $6.7 Million Verdict
Judge rules insurer not liable for sexual assault of County Jail inmate.
A federal judge has rejected Milwaukee County’s bid to force its insurer to pay a $6.7 million jury verdict in a case stemming from a corrections officer’s repeated sexual assaults of a pregnant Milwaukee County Jail inmate.
The county’s insurer, Wisconsin County Mutual Insurance Corp, told the county that it would not pay the a jury award in the case, meaning the county would be stuck with the bill. The county turned to U.S. District Judge J.P. Stadtmueller in an effort to get that decision overturned.
Stadtmueller, though, said the payment dispute should not be tacked on to existing case. The trial, he said, was not about insurance, but about what happened to the woman assaulted by former Corrections Officer Xavier Thicklen.
“Now, more than a month after that trial, the county wishes to hijack this litigation to resolve its insurance coverage dispute,” Stadtmueller said in his decision.
Justice, he said, “would in fact be offended” if the county was allowed to pursue its insurance dispute through the original case.
“The prejudice to plaintiff – having her case taken over (and put on hold indefinitely) to resolve a fight as to who must pay her – is undeniable,” he wrote.
He denied the county’s motion without prejudice so the county could pursue it in state court.
Stadtmueller also denied the county’s request to have the verdict overturned because Thicklen was not acting within the scope of his job when he assaulted the inmate, an argument the judge already had considered and rejected.
He also shot down the county’s argument that the jury’s verdict, which included $1.7 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages, was excessive.
The county’s arguments, Stadtmueller said, “are half-hearted and merit little discussion. … Contrary to the county’s arguments, plaintiff suffered both physical and emotional injuries as a result of Thicklen’s repeated sexual assaults.”
Specifically addressing the punitive damages award, Stadtmueller said:
“To say that Thicklen’s conduct was merely reprehensible is almost sickeningly generous. He repeatedly raped a young woman at varying stages of pregnancy, abusing the power he had over her in the most heinous manner possible, causing her physical and (lasting) mental injuries at a time when she was exceedingly vulnerable.”
Gretchen Schuldt writes a blog for Wisconsin Justice Initiative, whose mission is “To improve the quality of justice in Wisconsin by educating the public about legal issues and encouraging civic engagement in and debate about the judicial system and its operation.
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Read more about Jane Doe Vs. County of Milwaukee Case here