Fort Bend County sues fallen deputy’s family, wants money back
By Elsa Maxey
Local attorney Amy Mitchell emphatically states that the statute of limitations for Fort Bend County to sue expired after two years after 39-year old Sheriff Deputy J.D. Norsworthy’s death in December 27, 2010. Norsworthy was critically injured after swerving to avoid traffic en route as back up for a fellow officer. He died in a hospital eight days later.
“While I believe all of the county’s claims are time barred, there was no reason to bring J.D. Norsworthy’s widow and daughter into the suit,” said Mitchell, the attorney for 18 year old Kaitlyn Norsworthy, daughter of the fallen deputy. “The county did not pursue getting the monies back from the third party,” at any time since Norsworthy’s death and it never tried to recover reimbursement for his medical bills or lost wages amounting to close to $300,000,” said Mitchell…until now.
Mitchell shares a chronology of events showing that Norsworthy’s father and son filed wrongful death lawsuits against the company that operated a flatbed truck and its driver, the third party, determined to be liable for the cause of Norsworthy’s accident. One of the lawsuits was filed three months after Norsworthy’s death by his dad. “The county could have intervened at that time,” said Mitchell, and “they did not.”
Neither Melissa, Norsworthy’s wife, nor the county filed suit against the third party within the two years that followed the tragic accident.
Both the Norsworthy children, Kaitlyn, 13, and her brother, Jacob, 16, at the time of their dad’s death, were allowed to file their own personal claims up to two years after they turned 18. Jacob filed suit against the third party in 2014 and amended his lawsuit the following year with claims from beneficiaries for JD Norsworthy’s survival cause of action.
In a statement released last week, Fort Bend County said it “has a deep concern for the well-being of Deputy J. D. Norsworthy’s widow and children as they continue to deal with the tragedy of the sudden loss of a husband and father.”
Kaitlyn, said Mitchell, arrived at the scene of her father’s accident minutes after the crash with her mother, saw the vehicle upside down in a ditch, heard her mother’s frantic calls to find her father, witnessed life flight’s loading and take off, hearing the helicopter’s flight overhead while she, too, was en route, and at the hospital, she saw her father’s mangled body and unrecognizable face pass by her. Mitchell also said Kaitlyn consequently suffered significant mental anguish and emotional injuries.
Norsworthy’s wife, Melissa, had not wanted to sue anyone, and “just wanted to help her children,” said Mitchell noting that Melissa currently receives $383 per week for the loss of her husband in the line of duty as death benefits paid by Fort Bend County. “Melissa and Kaitlyn believed the death benefits were being paid by the 100 Club,” and were totally unaware they were actually workers compensation benefits, adds Mitchell.
In December Melissa accompanied her children to a mediation with the party allegedly responsible for Norsworthy’s death. They settled with that party and the estate of JD Norsworthy received $2000, and both children settled for an undisclosed amount. What followed was a full release against the liable party by Melissa and Kaitlyn on behalf of Norsworthy’s estate.
“The liable party was released without paying Melissa a dime,” reports Mitchell.
Then on January 25, by intervening in Jacob’s lawsuit, Fort Bend County said for the first time that it would be making a claim for the return of workers compensation benefits, said Mitchell. She also said the county’s attorney was informed of Kaitlyn’s settlement and about Melissa not receiving anything.
“The attorney for the county accused the family of colluding to avoid paying back the money the county paid to Melissa and the medical providers.” Mitchell said this is in spite of the county knowing that the settlement was only for Kaitlyn’s injuries and that her mom, Melissa, had received nothing since she could not timely file outside a two year window, unlike her children. “The county, however, sued Melissa, Kaitlyn and their attorneys in order to take Kaitlyn’s money to reimburse the county for the medical and indemnity payments paid to the widow and medical providers.”
Both Melissa and Kaitlyn are devastated, advises Mitchell. “They are horrified that the county has sued them.” A Facbook post by Melissa lists questions she has for the county and asks “you, the FBC first responders, community tax payers decide.”
Fort Bend County is saying it only wants to recover worker’s comp payouts from the third party responsible for the accident that killed Norsworthy. It “has a statutory responsibility to be reimbursed from the responsible third parties for the tax payer money paid to beneficiaries,” reads the statement released last Wednesday. The county’s statement maintains that it is entitled to the first monies paid by any third party. It was released in response to an intervention petition underway on behalf of the Norsworthys. Online, the petition states – IF YOU ARE A FORT BEND COUNTY TEXAS TAX PAYER, PLEASE SIGN THIS PETITION ASKING THE COUNTY TO DROP THIS LAWSUIT.
Fort Bend County said it seeks money from the third party, implying it is not seeking it from the family members. But the statute of limitations has run out on the county and it can no longer file a lawsuit against the third party, maintains Mitchell. This may be the reason it is now seeking the money on behalf of the taxpayers indirectly from the third party since the third party paid monies to the Norsworthy children in the undisclosed settlement. This is not the correct course of action, Mitchell told the Star.
(See this story online
with Fort Bend County’s