On Wednesday, the family of an alleged victim of notorious Boston gangster James "Whitey" Bulger requested that their civil suit be allowed to continue against former FBI officials, The Associated Press reports.
According to the suit, Michael Donahue was killed when Bulger and another man opened fire on an alleged FBI informant. In 2007, a judge ruled that the FBI was responsible for the death of Donahue and awarded his family $6.3 million. However, that judgment was later overturned by the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Bulger was the leader of the Winter Hill Gang and the inspiration for the character of Frank Costello in Scorcese's "The Departed." He was also a longtime FBI informant. In 1982, Bulger allegedly killed Edward 'Brian" Halloran after former FBI Agent John Connolly Jr. told Bulger that Halloran planned to inform on him for a murder. Donahue, who had offered Halloran a ride on the night of the murder, was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time.
In 2007, a judge held that the FBI was responsible for the deaths and awarded the families of Donahue and Halloran $8.5 million. However, an appellate court overturned the decision, finding that the statute of limitations had run.
That suit named both the federal government and the individual FBI agents as defendants. "We didn't recover from the government; we can recover from the individuals," Edward Hinchey, the Donahues' lawyer, said, according to The Associated Press.
Donahue's family is probably bringing its civil rights claim under Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871. A plantiff who brings a Section 1983 claim must show that the defendant subjected the plaintiff to conduct that occurred under color of state law, and that this conduct deprived the plaintiff of rights, privileges, or immunities protected under federal law or the U.S. Constitution.
Had the defendants not been government employees, it would likely be a negligence case. If so, the family would have to show that the defendants owed a duty of care to Donahue, and that by breaching that duty of care directly caused his death. Donahue's family would probably argue that the defendants breached their duty of care by telling Bulger that Halloran planned to inform on him, then failing to stop Bulger from murdering the man.
According to Tory Weigand, attorney for one of the FBI agents, Michael Donahue's family is simply trying to press the same claim twice, after losing the first time. "You can't get another bite of the apple," Weigand said.
- Find a Boston Personal Injury Attorney (FindLaw)
- Family of alleged Bulger victim press civil case (The Associated Press)
- Wrongful Death Claims: Time Limits and the "Discovery" Rule (FindLaw)
- Wrongful Death Overview (FindLaw)