Tort Law

Man hurt by SWAT team as he tried to cash check can seek another $3.3M award from Bank of America

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When Rodolfo Valladares went to a Florida branch of the Bank of America in 2008, he was just trying to cash a $100 check.

But after he was mistaken for a robber by a teller, a SWAT team was called, and Valladares was kicked in the head by responding law officers, allegedly sustaining life-altering permanent injuries.

He filed suit and won a $3.3 million Miami-Dade jury verdict, then saw it reversed by an appeals court. On Thursday, the state’s top court said the earlier determination that Valladares had no cause of action was a mistake. However, instead of reinstating the $3.3 million verdict, the Florida Supreme Court held that erroneous jury instructions require a new trial for the negligence, battery and false imprisonment case, according to CBS Miami.

The saga began with an email about a bank robber circulated to Bank of America personnel, which included a photo of the robber wearing a Miami Heat baseball cap and sunglasses. When Valladares arrived at the branch, he also was wearing a Miami Heat baseball cap and sunglasses but otherwise did not match the description of the robber, an earlier ABC News story explains.

Nonetheless, mistaking Valladares for the robber, the teller triggered a silent alarm and engaged him in conversation, even though he did nothing, then or later, to suggest that he intended to rob the bank, the supreme court says in its written opinion (PDF).

Even when Valladares presented her with a Bank of America check imprinted with his own information and his driver’s license, the teller didn’t correct her mistaken report to authorities that he was a bank robber, the opinion notes. Thus, although the bank argued that it had a privilege to tell law enforcement about suspected criminal activity and hence was immune from suit, the supreme court disagreed.

“Public policy supports a limited immunity for those who make innocent, simple mistakes, but that limited immunity cannot extend to conduct that recklessly disregards the rights of others,” the majority wrote, explaining its 5-2 decision. “In the case of Valladares, the bank had ample information and ample time to know the true facts and to correct the false report, but failed to do so. Once there is information indicating that a crime is not being committed, this limited privilege should not extend to a person’s failure to alert law enforcement that a reported crime is a mistake or simply wrong.”

Last updated June 5 to add a missing word to a sentence.

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