Jury awards $13 million to family of man killed in 2018 DC fire truck crash

D.C. Fire has changed protocol to try to prevent crashes involving fire engines. (File, WTOP/Mike Murillo)(WTOP/Mike Murillo, File)

A jury has awarded more than $13.5 million to the family of a man killed in a 2018 crash involving a speeding D.C. fire truck.

The award, to be paid to the widow of DeAngelo Green and his six children, came after a jury found that the District was “grossly negligent” in the March 9, 2018 crash.

Green, a maintenance man, was killed when the speeding fire engine, which was responding to an emergency with its lights and sirens activated, sped through a red light at an intersection at Rhode Island Avenue and 12th Street in Northeast D.C., plowing head-on into his car. Two other people, including a pregnant woman walking on the street, were hurt.

Widow T’Anita Coles-Green filed the lawsuit in April 2019.

Attorney William Lightfoot said the jury’s award gives the Green family a sense of closure and provides resources for the children to get a good education and live some place safe.

“They can have a stable home and try to bring their family back together,” he told WTOP in a phone interview.

He also said the large award sends a message to the D.C. Fire and EMS Department.

“They cannot have their trucks driving recklessly down the street, running red lights,” he said.

The District is expected to appeal the award. When asked whether the D.C. Office of the Attorney General planned to appeal the verdict, a spokesperson said the office is considering its legal options.

2 separate trials

The jury’s decision follows two separate trials. The first, in June 2023, was to determine who was liable in the crash.

Originally, a D.C. police report about the crash, released in 2019, primarily faulted DeAngelo Green for failing to yield the right of way to the fire truck and said a toxicology report found he had PCP in his system.

However, at the June trial, evidence showed the driver of the truck violated D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services policies, which allow drivers of fire trucks on emergency runs to run red lights, but only if they slow down or stop before going through them. The driver of the fire truck was also speeding, traveling nearly 55 mph in a 30 mph.

In addition, D.C. Superior Court Judge Yvonne Williams excluded the toxicology report from being considered by jurors, because while it reported PCP in DeAngelo Green’s system, it only indicated he had ingested the drug at some point before, not necessarily the day of the crash.

“PCP did not contribute to the Accident,” the judge said in one ruling, finding that there was “no evidence that Mr. Green acted recklessly” before the crash.

Legal twists and turns

The case has seen its share of twists and turns. The jury in the June 2023 trial initially found that while the District was grossly negligent, DeAngelo Green was contributorily negligent — an outcome that would have fallen in favor of the District. However, the judge in the case, following a request from the Greens’ lawyers, later agreed she had given incorrect jury instructions and set aside that part of the jury’s verdict.

In the second trial to determine damages, which began this week, the District again sought to introduce evidence of DeAngelo Green’s past drug use, as well as past jail time in an apparent bid to limit the jury’s award.

“The District does not intend to argue that Mr. Green was a “bad man” … for using drugs and therefore a bad parent, but rather that a reasonable jury could find that a history of incarceration due to drugs and several motor vehicle accidents during which Mr. Green used drugs would diminish to at least some degree the amount of care and support he would be able to give his children in the future,” lawyers for the District argued in one filing.

‘Value in this man’s life’

Lightfoot suggested that was an attempt at “character assassination.”

In the end, the jury awarded no money to the family due to lost earnings on the part of DeAngelo Green, but more than $13.5 million under a wrongful death claim.

“The jury found that there was a value in this man’s life,” Lightfoot said. “And our theme was that a maintenance man’s life matters.”

DeAngelo Green provided care and parental guidance to his children, Lightfoot said. “And that’s what the verdict is for, to pay the children for the loss of parental guidance, as a result of the death of their father,” he said.

The firefighter driving the truck was cleared of all criminal wrongdoing in the crash.

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Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined WTOP.com as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at Nextgov.com, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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