A federal judge in Camden has determined that a town cannot be held responsible for police officers who failed to evaluate a driver’s post-traumatic stress disorder after he was involved in a car accident that killed another driver.
The driver, Andrew Mattern, filed a due process claim against Sea Isle City and the four officers involved, claiming that they did not evaluate his mental state after the accident and did not adequately provide treatment for his post-traumatic stress disorder. The officers held Mattern for questioning after he struck and killed a pedestrian.
In November of 2014, Mattern was working a seasonal position for Sea Isle City. One day while at work, he was operating a trash truck in reverse. He struck Bernice Pasquarello (who was walking behind the truck) and backed over her before he realized what had happened. A later investigation revealed that the truck’s backup sensor, which beeps when it detects an obstacle behind the vehicle, had been broken for several months.
Officers took Mattern to the police station for questioning after the accident. According to their reports, he did not display any signs of physical impairment and they did not smell alcohol or find evidence of intoxication. He was reported to be “visibly emotional and shaken,” and when an officer asked if Mattern was all right, he responded with, “No, I just killed someone.”
PTSD and Police Responsibility
According to the lawsuit Mattern filed, the police officers should have treated him for PTSD when they brought him in for questioning. Their failure has led to his continued suffering from the emotional trauma of the event, he claims, and he has been unable to go back to work or do chores around the house and outside. Additionally, he has been unable to connect emotionally or physically with his wife.
His lawsuit cites a New Jersey Supreme Court decision from 1997 in which the judges ruled that an inmate who developed PTSD after being the victim of a sexual assault by a guard could seek damages for a permanent loss of bodily functions, in accordance with the Tort Claims Act. In Collins v. Union County Jail, the inmate was able to claim his PTSD as a severe medical need and recovered financial restitution as a result of his suit.
However, the ruling in Mattern’s case emphasized the widespread evidence of other cases in which plaintiffs were unable to recover under the Tort Claims Act because they had no physical violations. Although some courts have ruled that mental trauma may be a serious medical need, Mattern’s behavior and actions following the accident did not obviously display his mental anguish and the officers could not be expected to detect his suffering.
At Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, we represent individuals who have been accused of various crimes that may have led to issues related to PTSD. For more information on PTSD, liability, and post-accident recovery options, contact a New Jersey defense attorney at our firm today.