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$2 Million Landmark Settlement In McDowell 2018 Preventable Death Litigation

In memory of suicide victim Kelly McDowell

D’Amato Law Firm settled a $2 million lawsuit with the Ventnor Police Department on behalf of the family of the late Kelly Ann McDowell. In 2017, McDowell, then age 21 was living with Ventnor Police Sergeant Frank O’Neill when she shot herself with his unsecured service weapon he left on the floor of their bedroom walk in closet despite the Ventnor Police Department regulation requiring officers to place their service-issued gun in a safe or secured with a gun lock. The ammunition was required to be stored separately from the gun. McDowell, a mother of three, was previously diagnosed with Major Depression and anxiety and had received in-patient mental healthcare a month before the shooting, as well as outpatient treatment at the time of her death.

In the lawsuit, McDowell’s family alleged O’Neill’s actions were “grossly negligent” for failing to secure his weapon, despite knowledge of McDowell’s mental illness, extensive weapons training, and extensive training in recognizing mental health issues. In addition to O’Neill’s negligence, the lawsuit further alleged that the Ventnor Police Department failed to take actions to ensure compliance by its officers.  The trial court found O’Neill had a duty to protect Kelly even though he was “not on the clock.”

D’Amato Law Firm hopes this settlement and court ruling will help save others through stricter law enforcement gun safety compliance including when officers are off-duty. Part of the legal team representing the McDowell family were attorneys Oliver Barry and Erika Lezama.

D’Amato Law Firm is dedicated to helping families harmed by negligence. Call 609-926-3300 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. Located in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, we serve clients in South Jersey, including Atlantic City, Linwood, Galloway Township, Cape May, Vineland, Millville, Bridgeton, Ocean City, and Woodbury.

Settlement Press Release:

$2 Million Settlement Reached in Preventable Death Case of Ventnor Police Officer’s Girlfriend Who Died by Suicide in Their Home After Using His Unsecured Service Gun

Press Coverage:

September 6th, 2023 –  Family, Ventnor reach settlement in Galloway woman’s suicide – The Press of Atlantic City

September 5th, 2023 – Ventnor settles suit for $2M in case involving suicide with officer’s gun – Breaking AC

April 16, 2018 – Lawsuit: South Jersey cop is “grossly negligent” for failing to lock up his service gun that was used in girlfriend’s suicide – WHYY

Filed Complaints:

Strazzeri & Kevin/Carol McDowell 

Trial Court Order:

Porto Order Finding Ofc. O’Neill had a duty to secure service weapon, even when “off-duty”