CHARLESTON – The West Virginia Supreme Court says the estate of an inmate in the Preston County Jail who died by hanging waited too long to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the county commission.
Timothy Daft was 22 years old when he was found hanging in his cell on Aug. 3, 2005. He died the next day and the Preston Sheriff's Department informed Daft's family, according to the unsigned opinion filed June 9.
Virginia Daft, Timothy's mother, got an invoice from Mountaineer Family Care Center on Sept. 15, 2005, related to Timothy's having stitches removed from his head, hand and neck. The stitches had been removed the day before he was found hanging.
Virginia and another woman called Mountaineer about the invoice. They were told that Timothy had received the stitches about a week before they were removed. Virginia claims she had no knowledge that her son had been injured while in jail.
She called Preston Sheriff Ron Crites about the invoice. Crites "became upset" that Virginia had received the invoice and told her to bring it to him, the opinion says. Crites told Virginia that Timothy had been injured from a fall in the jail shower.
Virginia told Russell Stuyvesant -- Timothy's brother and administrator of his estate – about the invoice soon after this. Stuyvesant claims that at that time, he began to doubt the sheriff's assertion that Timothy killed himself.
Stuyvesant filed a wrongful death and neglect lawsuit against the county commission on Aug. 20, 2007. The county commission moved to dismiss the lawsuit on Sept. 5, 2007, saying it wasn't filed within the two-year statute of limitations under state law. State law requires such a suit to be filed within two years of a person's death.
Preston Circuit Judge Lawrance S. Miller Jr. granted the county's motion on Oct. 11, 2007, and entered a final order on Nov. 2, 2007.
In his appeal, Stuyvesant argued that the state Supreme Court had previously granted an exception to the statute of limitations in a case involving a man who died as a result of an overdose caused by a physician's negligence.
In that case, the man's widow claimed that she wasn't aware of her husband's cause of death until three days after he died on Oct. 17, 1997. The lawsuit wasn't filed until Oct. 20, 1999, but the court ruled that the statute of limitations didn't begin until the widow discovered the cause of her husband's death.
But in Stuyvesant's case, the court ruled that he made no allegations in the lawsuit that the injury Timothy sustained in the shower fall was related to his hanging. The only allegation Stuyvesant made was that the invoice made him doubt the sheriff's assertion that Timothy killed himself.
"Such a broad and disconnected allegation is woefully insufficient to allow for the statute of limitations to be tolled in this case," the unsigned opinion says.
"Had the appellant alleged any causal connection or nexus between his perception of the evasive reaction by the sheriff in response to questions about the invoice and Mr. Daft's subsequent death by hanging, the result of this case may have been different."
S. Sean Murphy represented Stuyvesant in his appeal. Boyd L. Warner and Brandy D. Bell represented the county.
Supreme Court case number: 34137