The government of Fort Bend County, Texas is suing the widow and children of a Fort Bend County Deputy who died in the line of duty.
According to ABC 13, Deputy J.D. Norsworthy was critically injured December 27, 2010, after swerving to avoid traffic on his way to assist a fellow officer. After losing control of his vehicle, he hit a tree and flipped his patrol car. He succumbed to his injury days later.
Since Norsworthy’s death, the county has never tried to recover reimbursement for his medical bills or lost wages. Only now, after Norsworthy’s daughter Kaitlyn has settled with the party deemed responsible for the wreck, has the county filed suit against Kaitlyn, her brother and her mother.
“Why would you make it even worse? There’s no words for it. It’s just wrong,” said Kaitlyn Norsworthy.
Only 13 years old when her father was killed, Kaitlyn says she still has trouble with PTSD because she and her mother happened to drive up upon the wreck moments after it occurred five years ago. The images still haunt her.
“You know, but you don’t want to believe it,” she said.
Widow Melissa Norsworthy said that the suit “doesn’t sit very well. Not at all. It’s just amazing to me that it has come to this point. I don’t understand it. I think it’s very disrespectful for countywide first responders…not just…for first responders, period.”
According to the suit, Fort Bend claims it “has been deprived” and “is entitled to the first monies paid by any third party”, listing that amount at nearly $300,000.
“We’re obligated to file that suit to make reasonable recovery,” said Bob Hebert, Fort Bend County Judge.
While Judge Herbert understands that this issue may be less than popular, he stands firm.
“It puts us in an unusual predicament, but we have to look to the taxpayers first and protect their money if at all possible,” Hebert added.
Since Fort Bend County is self-insured, the county says they are only looking to recover the portion of its payout provided by workers compensation from the third party deemed responsible.
“Fort Bend County has a statutory responsibility to be reimbursed from the responsible third parties for the tax payer money paid to beneficiaries,” the county said in a statement. “These responsibilities are established by Texas law as an obligation on claimants, beneficiaries, responsible third parties and their attorneys to protect the County’s right to reimbursement, rather than allow any double recovery by beneficiaries.”
The county says they have provided for and will continue to support the Norsworthy family as workers’ compensation beneficiaries.
Kaitlyn and her mother are stunned. Melissa Norsworthy said she and J.D. were to celebrate their 20th anniversary the year he was killed. She calls the county’s suit hypocritical.
“We don’t understand why it is coming to this. Why have we reached this point, I think it’s disrespectful,” she said. “It’s a slap in the face.”
The attorney representing the Norsworthy family says there was a statute of limitations which prohibits the county from filing the suit against the family. That expired after two years.
Fort Bend County has released the following statement:
“Fort Bend County 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. Fort Bend County has provided and continues to provide support to the family as workers’ compensation beneficiaries.
The intention of the County in this case, and any other subrogation case, is only to recover the portion of its payouts provided by worker’s compensation from the third party deemed responsible. Fort Bend County has a statutory responsibility to be reimbursed from the responsible third parties for the tax payer money paid to beneficiaries. These responsibilities are established by Texas law as an obligation on claimants, beneficiaries, responsible third parties and their attorneys to protect the County’s right to reimbursement, rather than allow any double recovery by beneficiaries.
Replenishment of workers’ compensation payments once a responsible party is determined is a standard process under subrogation law, and is normally calculated at the time the suit is filed and included as a portion of settlements in most cases. The attorney for a family member notified the County of a possible settlement in a lawsuit against a third party and asked what amount would be owed to the County under its statutory lien rights. Prior to that notification, the County was not aware of any settlement a beneficiary made with any responsible third party. Our intervention is an attempt to seek reimbursement of our tax payers’ cost from the party that caused the accident.
First responders are the lifeline of the community, spending days and nights protecting the lives and property of its citizens. The loss of a deputy in the line of duty is a great loss to the county, its citizens and more importantly, their families. In this case the county is looking to responsible parties for reimbursement of benefits paid to the family.”
County Judge Bob Hebert said, “Given the deep respect I hold for all county employees, and especially our law enforcement officers and other first responders, I am distressed that our action is being styled by some as an attempt to take money that rightfully belongs to widows and orphans. Nothing could be further from the truth. We routinely recover payment of Workers’ Compensation and Group Medical benefits from third parties liable for those injuries. The timing of notice that negotiations were underway and the very short fuse given by the court to enter a pleading required the unusual step of naming the beneficiaries as well as the plaintiff’s attorneys and the responsible third party. Our goal, as stated above, remains to be reimbursed by the responsible third party.”
An online petition has been initiated to urge the county to cease all legal action against the Norsworthy family. It can be viewed here.
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