Federal Jury Awards $31.3 Million Judgment to Starke County Family


 A Starke County family whose 14-year-old daughter died in 2005 has been awarded a $31.3 million federal judgment against the state employees who accused the parents of being responsible for her death.

A federal jury returned the verdict against four of the Department of Child Services caseworkers who removed three children from the Francesville home of Roman and Lynnette Finnegan after the death of their daughter, Jessica Salyer, in December of 2005 and against an Indiana State Police detective who investigated her death.

Jessica was born with a heart defect and suffered seizures before she died, according to court documents. Shortly before her death, her physician doubled her dose of prescription blood thinners and took her off anti-seizure medication.

DCS and state police officials suspected foul play. They removed three other children from the home and placed them in foster care. The Finnegans were arrested in 2007, according to court documents. Their attorney tells “The Indiana Lawyer” DCS officials ignored evidence, including the coroner’s conclusion that Jessica died as a result of a prescription error which caused an overdose. The publication notes the coroner testified for the plaintiffs during the three-week federal jury trial that wrapped up this week.

Roman Finnegan was fired from his job with the Indiana Department of Correction following his arrest. The family lost its home and was forced to sell off most of its possessions. They’ve since moved to a campground in Knox.

The jury awarded the Finnegans and their children, Katelynn Salyer and Jonathon and Tabitha Abair a total of $31.3 million in compensatory damages for 22 violations of their First, Fourth and 14th Amendment rights. Pulaski County DCS Director Laurel Myers was found most liable.

The jury awarded Roman Finnegan $8.975 million; Lynnette Finnegan $7.725 million; Tabitha Abair $5.25 million; Katelynn Salyer $5.2 million and Jonathon Abair $4.2 million. A spokesman for the Indiana Attorney General’s office says in a statement no decision has been made as to whether the state will appeal or seek to reduce the award.