OC to Pay $1.5 Million in Tragic Case of Mistaken Identity

A jury has ordered Orange County to pay $1.5 million to a family that was incorrectly informed their son had died.

California County News covered this tragic case of mistaken identity back in 2017. You can read our original article on the case here.

TLDR: OC officials found the body of a homeless man behind a Verizon store in 2017 and misidentified him. The family of another man was told it was their son. They held a $20,000 open-casket funeral before the truth came out.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs were seeking a much bigger payout of $10 million for emotional distress. Instead, the Los Angeles Times reports the jury awarded $1.1 million to the father, Francis Kerrigan, and $400,000 to his daughter.

At trial, more information came to light about how the mixup had occurred. A Fountain Valley police officer thought he recognized the face on the badly mangled corpse as local homeless man Frankie Kerrigan and called it in. Deputy Coroner David Ralsten agreed after pulling up Kerrigan’s 11-year-old DMV photo and made a positive ID.

Finger prints later revealed the error, but not until the wrong family had been notified and sent into a bout of unshakable grief. That’s because Ralsten had gone on vacation and no one at his office checked the five-month-old system while he was gone.

“We essentially had no significant training” on the system, Ralsten told the jury.

There’s a somewhat happy ending to this story for the Kerrigan family. According to their attorney, V. James DeSimone, Kerrigan — who suffers from schizophrenia and had lived on the streets for years — is doing better.

“Frankie is relatively stable, with a roof over his head,” DeSimone said. “They’re hoping to get him back on medication."


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