The Philadelphia Personal Injury Law Blog

Court Awards $4.7M From Cop for Wrongful Death, City Not Liable

The family of William Panas Jr. was awarded $4.7 million in damages in a wrongful death verdict against a former policeman.

But the same jury didn’t find the Police Department liable for the death and let them, and incidentally the City of Philadelphia, off the hook on the civil liability surrounding Panas’ death, reports CBS.

Panas was shot to death by off-duty police officer Frank Tepper, back in 2009. The two were reportedly neighbors.

Despite the finding by the jury that Tepper had been acting in official police capacity at the time of the attack, even though he was in plain clothes and purportedly off duty, the jury held that the police department wasn't liable.

Essentially, they found that despite Tepper's prior history of excessive force, the Department's indifference to his behavior was not the cause of the death.

Tepper received a life sentence with no chance of parole in February. At that time, the city had made an offer of $600,000 to the victim's family to settle the civil case. The family refused the offer, claiming that they didn't want the money. Rather, they claimed they wanted justice and wanted the city to be found liable for allowing Tepper to stay on the force.

The payout would almost certainly have been larger had they taken the city's offer. While they were able to get a multi-million-dollar settlement from Tepper, it's hard to say whether Tepper has the funds to pay the award.

Collection is a huge part of assessing a personal injury claim or a wrongful death claim. Plaintiffs look to defendants with deep pockets. And despite what the plaintiffs in this case say about their motive in suing the city, the city of Philadelphia has deeper pockets than the officer involved.

According to the family's attorney, they plan to tap into Tepper's police pension and any of his assets to satisfy the judgment.

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