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Palm Coast Friday, Feb. 22, 2019 2 months ago

Sheriff's Office employees to sue over conditions at Operations Center

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'I completely understand why affected employees have been advised to file a lawsuit by their attorney to protect their rights under Florida law,' Sheriff Rick Staly said.

A total of 27 Flagler County Sheriff's Office employees plan to sue the Sheriff's Office for negligence over conditions at the now-evacuated Sheriff's Operations Center — and they have Sheriff Rick Staly's sympathy.

"The Sheriff's Office owed my client, its employee, a duty of care to provide a safe work environment which it breached by negligently failing to safely maintain and inspect the Operations Center."

— Bichler & Longo's notice of intent to sue

“This litigation is no surprise to me and should be no surprise to anyone," Staly said in a news release. "I completely understand why affected employees have been advised to file a lawsuit by their attorney to protect their rights under Florida law."

Bichler & Longo, the law firm representing the employees, sent the Flagler County Sheriff's Office notice of intent to file a lawsuit. The notice, sent by certified mail, was dated Feb. 12. It is required by law.

The Sheriff's Operations Center building has been evacuated since June, at Staly's order, and is owned by the county. It was constructed on the frame of the old Memorial Hospital building, on State Road 100. Since employees started reporting symptoms — rashes, respiratory problems — a series of experts, some hired by the county, others representing the employees, have conducted testing on it, as has the CDC.

"The health, safety, and well-being of our employees is paramount and non-negotiable. To this end, I look forward to working with the County Commission to expeditiously resolve our building and space needs.'

— RICK STALY, Flagler County sheriff

Some of the lab results have not come back yet. But when the building's walls were opened up, experts found evidence of water damage and bat guano. Water was also intruding under the flooring. The county has a legal responsibility to provide adequate facilities for the sheriff, and, for now, the FCSO's operations are divided between the county courthouse and the jail administrative building while the county seeks a longer term solution.

"The nature of this complaint for negligence is that my client, while working for the Sheriff's Office Operations Center, was exposed to toxins in the workplace," the notice from Bichler & Longo states. "The Sheriff's Office owed my client, its employee, a duty of care to provide a safe work environment which it breached by negligently failing to safely maintain and inspect the Operations Center. The Sheriff’s Office also failed to warn or adequately warn my client of the danger of toxins in the Operations Center and failed to correct or adequately correct the unreasonably dangerous condition caused by these toxins. As a direct and proximate cause of the County's negligence, my client has suffered bodily injury, incurred medical expenses, suffered pain and mental anguish and a loss of earnings."

Staly noted in the FCSO's news release that employees had been assigned to the building before he became sheriff. 

"As sheriff I am only a tenant in a building owned by the county," he stated in the news release. "As soon as I was notified and saw credible evidence about the impact of this building on my employees’ health and well-being, I demanded the county evacuate everyone from it. ... I am sure that the legal and worker’s compensation process will work to achieve a just resolution and I support my employees who work hard to serve our community every day. "

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