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Billings family receives $400K from city, county in wrongful death suit

A suit involving a nurse who was killed in a drunk driving accident in 2008 has finally been settled, with the woman's family receiving $400,000. The wrongful death suit was filed against the police departments who were chasing the drunk driver. Their actions ultimately killed the 27-year-old woman, according to family members. The city of Billings and Yellowstone County will each contribute $200,000 to the settlement funds.

The woman was killed by a 17-year-old driver who was intoxicated while fleeing from police in his GMC sport utility vehicle. She was heading to work at about 7 a.m. on April 18, 2008, when she was broadsided on Grand Avenue, according to official reports. The woman was killed, but the teenaged driver and his passenger sustained only minor injuries.

The driver was eventually charged as an adult with vehicular homicide and a string of other felonies. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison as a result of the incident, after pleading guilty on all counts.

The family members' suit centers on attorneys' assertions that the chase should never have taken place that fateful morning. The officers chasing the young man were operating unmarked cars, which are prohibited from participating in vehicle chases except in "extreme circumstances," which are poorly defined. Further, no more than two patrol cars are permitted to participate in a car chase at once, a policy that was blatantly violated by the large number of officers who joined in the pursuit, some at high speeds from miles away.

Although the city and county have not admitted to liability in the case, both entities felt it in the taxpayers' best interest to resolve the case after its protracted arguments. Officials for both groups have publicly broadcast that they believe the young man was responsible for the woman's death, but they wanted to bring closure to the family of an innocent victim.

Source: Billings Gazette, "Stahl family settles wrongful-death lawsuit against city, county," Ed Kemmick, May 4, 2012

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