(CN) – The family of a man who was run over by a train while passed out drunk beside the tracks can sue the city of Boca Raton, which released the man from police custody without ensuring that he got home safely, a Florida appeals court ruled.
Christopher Milanese was arrested for driving while intoxicated in the early morning hours of Sept. 22, 2007. He had spent the night drinking at a Florida Marlins baseball game and The Wishing Well, a bar in Boca Raton.
Milanese’s 19-year-old cousin had called the police while following him with her own car, worried because he was driving erratically and running red lights.
At the time of his arrest, Milanese had a blood alcohol content of 0.24, or three times the legal limit. Police gave the 24-year-old five traffic citations and called him a cab at about 4:30 a.m. The taxi driver didn’t see him, however, and left without him.
Milanese, who lived in Deerfield Beach, was allegedly unfamiliar with the area and wound up lying beside the train tracks an hour later.
The engineer of an approaching train tried to rouse Milanese by blowing the train’s horn, but Milanese did not move and died on impact. At the time of his death, Milanese’s BAC was 0.19, still more than twice the legal limit.
His family sued the city, alleging that the police released Milanese into an unfamiliar neighborhood without ensuring that he had a safe ride home.
The trial court granted the city’s motion to dismiss the case, finding that the family did not prove the city owed Milanese a duty of care.
On July 20, however, the West Palm Beach-based Fourth District Florida Court of Appeals ordered the case to proceed.
“Although Milanese’s death occurred after his release from custody, the complaint’s allegations are focused on the officer’s actions while Milanese was still in custody, specifically the officers’ manner of releasing him,” Judge Matthew Stevenson wrote for a three-judge panel.
“We also note that Milanese’s cousin, who was following behind him in her car and therefore a possible means of safe transportation for Milanese, was ordered to return to her car and leave upon the initial detention,” he added.
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Jonathan Gerber wrote that the decision gave new duties to the police and raised “a number of civil rights and other questions.”