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Brandon Ellingson was a 20-year old college sophomore vacationing with his family in Missouri in 2014 when he was detained for allegedly operating a boat under the influence on the Lake of the Ozarks. A Missouri Highway Patrol officer put Ellingson on his own boat and handcuffed him, but Ellingson fell out of the boat while handcuffed and drowned. In late November, the State of Missouri agreed to pay Ellingson’s parents and sister $9 million to settle a wrongful death suit against the officer.

The Officer’s Allegedly Negligent Handling of Ellingson

According to court documents in the case, Ellingson had been driving friends on a boat back to his parents’ lake house in May 2014 when Missouri Highway Patrol officer Anthony Piercy stopped Ellingson’s boat on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. Piercy came aboard Ellingson’s boat, gave him a sobriety test, and then put him under arrest.

Piercy put Ellingson on his boat and handcuffed him while putting a flotation device on Ellingson that was not the one prescribed by the patrol’s policy, despite the fact an appropriate flotation device was available. Piercy also failed to put Ellingson’s arms through the flotation device’s armholes or secure the crotch strap. Pierce then placed Ellingson “leaning against against a flipped up seat” and proceeded to reach speeds of between 40 and 46 miles an hour as he transported Ellingson.

Ellingson then fell out of the boat and the flotation device separated from him as he entered the water. Piercy entered the water to try to rescue Ellingson who was still handcuffed but was unable to do so. A 2011 study found that officers such as Ellingson were not properly trained to safely patrol state waterways.

The Family’s Wrongful Death Claims Against Piercy and the State

Ellingson’s family later brought a wrongful death claim against Piercy and his supervisors for wrongfully causing the young man’s death and for the supervisors’ failure to properly supervise and train Piercy. A state court found on a motion for summary judgment that there was sufficient evidence to support the claims that Piercy had violated Ellingson’s 4th and 14th amendment rights by negligently seizing him and handling him after the arrest, but dismissed the claims against the supervisors.

By settling with the family for $9 million, the State of Missouri brings to an end the civil wrongful death claims, but the state trooper still faces manslaughter charges in the young man’s death.

Bringing a Wrongful Death Claim in Missouri

Missouri law allows the family members of deceased victims to seek financial recovery for their losses against the wrongdoers who caused the death through a wrongful death suit. The Missouri wrongful death attorneys at The Law Store, located inside Walmart locations inside Joplin, Neosho, and Springfield are available days, nights and weekends to provide First Free Advice on your potential wrongful death or personal injury claim. Simply call to schedule an appointment, schedule an appointment online, or just drop by one of our locations to speak with an attorney regarding your situation.