Widow from San Bernardino shooting seeks $58 million in wrongful death claim
The claims filed on behalf of Renee Wetzel and her children are over the death of husband and father Michael Wetzel, 37, who was among the 14 people killed in the San Bernardino shooting of December 2, 2015. Twenty-two others were wounded in the violence, and the suspects, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, were killed in a shootout with law enforcement.
The claims filed against San Bernardino County and the Department of Health Services said that Michael Wetzel’s death “was preventable and caused by the negligent and careless actions” of the county and 25 unarmed individual respondents, according to The Los Angeles Times.
Wetzel is seeking $3 million in lost wages. Her husband was an environmental specialist who was employed with the county for 15 years. She is also seeking $25 million in general damages for the wrongful death of her husband, plus an additional $10 million for each of their three unnamed minor children.
“The county will carefully consider each claim and act in the best interests of everyone involved,” David Wert, a county spokesman, said in a statement to the LA Times.
The widow is a stay at home mother and step-mother of six children aged up to 14, including an infant. She is already the beneficiary of over $350,000 raised from over 6,000 people who donated funds to the family on You Caring, the compassionate crowdfunding site
Mean-spirited comments have started to appear on the site since news of Renee’s claim has spread.
The claims were filed on December 22 with the San Bernardino clerk of the Board of Supervisors, who told the LA Times they were the only ones received by the county to date.
Other claims for property damages, however, have been filed, according to the Press Enterprise.
Isabel Serrano is seeking $3,000 for gunshot damage to the windshield, door, and side of her pickup truck, according to claim filed on December 14. The damages were allegedly sustained during the shootout with the two suspects, when hundreds of bullets were fired.
“Her truck was obliterated by bullets,” San Bernardino City Councilman John Valdivia told the Press Enterprise. “It was just a pile of metal that was out on the curb.”
Suing over a mass shooting isn’t uncommon, but the success in damage suits is checkered.
In the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children and six adults were killed, the survivors sued the estate of the shooter’s mother, the gun manufacturer, the town of Newtown and its board of education, the gun distributor, and the store that sold the firearm. The process helps families get closure because blame is assigned to the felon. Some of the cases have to be tried, while others reach a settlement, according to the Hartford Courant.
In the shooting at a Batman movie in Aurora, Colorado, where 12 people were killed and 70 injured, the parents of one victim, Jessica Ghawi, sued the gun dealer and lost. For those families that sued the movie theater, Cinemark, for personal injuries and wrongful death, the legal process is ongoing, as the judge let the case go ahead, saying the cinema could have reasonable foreseen the danger of such an attack, according to the Denver Post.
After the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, the parents of two students sued the university for not warning the campus community that there was imminent danger within the school. Thirty-two people were killed in that incident.
Initially, jurors found in favor of the plaintiffs and said the state had been negligent in the deaths of the two students, awarding the plaintiffs $4 million each. However, the amount was later reduced to $100,000 per plaintiff and, a year later, the Virginia Supreme Court overturned the verdict, saying “there is no duty for the commonwealth to warn students about the potential for criminal acts,” according to The Washington Post.
In a 2002 DC sniper attack, where 10 people were killed and 12 were wounded over a two-month period, the victims’ families sued Bushmaster Firearms, the maker of the AR-15 rifle used by the snipers. The company settled with them for $2.5 million. The same make and model of firearm was used in the Newtown killings and Aurora rampage.