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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Deputy Can’t Be Sued Over Fla. Woman’s Death

(CN) - The estate of a mentally ill Florida woman did not prove the sheriff's office was negligent when it un-jammed the gun she used to kill herself, a state appeals court ruled.

Tiffanye Cobb, 37, called the police in February 2009. When a deputy arrived, she explained that she had bought a gun and needed help un-jamming it.

According to her estate's complaint, she told the deputy she had bought the gun from "an unknown male she had never spoken with before."

The sheriff's office was familiar with Cobb, who her estate described as "an emotionally disturbed woman who had previously been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility."

She had made "bizarre and inappropriate calls to (the sheriff's office) on almost a monthly basis," according to her estate.

Cobb told the deputy that she had been unable to un-cock the gun and had fired it into a laundry basket, which she showed the deputy.

After determining that the gun had not been stolen, the deputy removed the shell casing of the round that Cobb had fired into the basket.

He placed the gun on the kitchen table and left the apartment.

Soon after, Cobb put the gun to her head and pulled the trigger.

Cobb's estate sued the sheriff's office for wrongful death, alleging that "in assisting Ms. Cobb, it endangered her."

The trial court dismissed the case, and the Tallahassee-based First District Florida Court of Appeals affirmed the decision in a per curiam opinion.

In a specially concurring opinion, Judge Scott Makar stated that the legal question is "whether a duty existed that the deputy negligently breached and, if so, are those actions shielded from liability under principles of sovereign immunity?"

Makar noted that if the estate's allegations are true, the deputy could have arrested Cobb for improperly discharging the weapon or could have held the gun as evidence.

However, Makar stated that the estate's failed to prove that the sheriff's office was not immune from the lawsuit."Because the presumption of correctness of the trial court's order as to the immunity issue has not been rebutted, I agree that affirmance is proper," Makar wrote.

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