Justice Steps In On Janklow Case

Taxpayers Could Pick Up Settlement Tab in Wrongful Death Suit

Posted March 15, 2004 at 6:47pm

Justice Department lawyers ruled Monday that former Rep. Bill Janklow (R-S.D.) was on official business in August 2003 when his car collided with and killed a 55-year-old motorcyclist, a decision that will likely mean taxpayers will pay the bill for any settlement resulting from a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the deceased’s family.

U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger filed the notice that formally determined Janklow was acting within the scope of his official duties at the time of the crash, according to The Associated Press. Janklow was convicted in December of second-degree manslaughter and reckless driving. The family of Randy Scott earlier this year filed a wrongful death claim against Janklow, seeking unspecified monetary damages.

If a judge agrees, the civil suit will be transferred from state court in Minnesota, where it is filed, to federal court with the United States substituted for Janklow as the defendant.

The decision triggers the Federal Tort Claims Act, the Cold War-era federal law that lays out a procedure for handling accident and liability claims against the government. If the prosecutor had decided that Janklow was not acting within the scope of his official duties, the civil suit would have remained against Janklow personally.

Because the federal government has the deepest of pockets in its ability to pay claims, most plaintiffs prefer to use the FTCA procedures, according to legal experts. But the Scott family has indicated that they will challenge the move to transfer the case.

Scott, of Hardwick, Minn., was killed Aug. 16, 2003, when his motorcycle struck the back of a car Janklow was driving. Janklow spoke earlier that day in Aberdeen and was returning to his home when the collision occurred.

Janklow is appealing his manslaughter and reckless driving convictions to the South Dakota Supreme Court, although the court has declined to release the former four-term governor pending a ruling.