Judge dismisses lawsuit in academy death

Midshipman's family said the Navy was negligent

February 03, 2005|By Molly Knight | Molly Knight,SUN STAFF

A Philadelphia judge has dismissed a wrongful-death lawsuit filed against the Navy by the family of a Naval Academy midshipman who was killed in a fall from his dormitory window.

John Paul Ruggiero, a junior from Gouldsboro, Pa., tumbled 53 feet to his death in August 2002 after a night of drinking with his friends off campus.

Ruggiero's parents sued, contending that the Navy was negligent in its failure to secure the large windows of Bancroft Hall with screens or bars.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in the Maryland section Thursday incorrectly identified U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo. Caputo sits on the federal court in Pennsylvania's Middle District in Scranton, Pa.
The Sun regrets the errors.

In dismissing the suit, U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo cited the Feres Doctrine, a 1950 Supreme Court ruling that protects the military from being sued by soldiers and their families for active-duty injuries.

Caputo determined that although Ruggiero was not on active duty at the time of the accident, he was subject to the Feres Doctrine as a student at a military service academy.

"Midshipman Ruggiero would not have fallen from his window in Bancroft Hall had it not been incident to his status as a midshipman," Caputo wrote in a 10-page decision dated Jan. 20.

An attorney for the Ruggiero family said yesterday that the judge's application of the doctrine was "too broad."

"Feres does not apply to what we're saying, which is there was negligence because they did not have bars on the window," said David P. Tomaszewski, a lawyer with a Wilkes-Barre, Pa., firm.

Lt. Erin Bailey, a Navy spokeswoman, had no immediate comment on the ruling.

Investigators were unable to determine what caused Ruggiero to fall after 1:30 a.m. Aug. 18.

Naval investigators determined that Ruggiero had a blood-alcohol content of 0.11 percent when he fell and ruled the death accidental.

Attorneys for Ruggiero's family have filed an appeal with the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Tomaszewski said.

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