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Appeals court reinstates lawsuit in death of man, 84, on jury duty

Appellate judges ordered another look at a dismissed civil lawsuit filed against Spokane County and a security company by the family of an 84-year-old man who died in the snow in 2007 after reporting for jury duty.

Kay Mita died of hypothermia near the front of the Spokane County Courthouse on Nov. 26, 2007, in the midst of a snowstorm. His family sued the county and its contracted security firm, Guardsmark, in 2010 for negligence in his death, arguing courthouse guards ushered him into the cold where he couldn’t find his parked car, and the county provided false assurances to Mita’s family that they would search for him following a missing person call.

Judge Patrick Monasmith threw out the Mitas’ claims against both the county and Guardsmark in a pair of rulings in November 2012 and January 2013, saying the family had not shown either was liable for damages in Kay Mita’s death. But a three-member panel of the state Court of Appeals overruled Monasmith on Tuesday, ordering the case back to a civil courtroom for a potential jury trial.

Mita’s son, Floyd, called Crime Check to report his father was missing shortly after 7 p.m. According to court documents, the 84-year-old was released from jury duty at lunchtime and never returned to his assigned courtroom. Multiple witnesses, including court guards, spoke with Mita throughout the afternoon and let him into the courthouse after hours to warm up by a heater, according to court records. But they locked him out around 9 p.m., and he was found dead the next morning.

Floyd Mita said he was assured by a dispatcher that law enforcement would respond immediately to the courthouse to look for his father, and thus stayed at home with his 82-year-old mother, who was worried. Acting Chief Judge Stephen Brown of the Division III Court of Appeals wrote in the ruling that this perceived promise opened the case to further review.

Kay Mita’s wife, Shizuko, died earlier this month, the family’s attorney, Richard Eymann, said Tuesday. She taped a deposition that could be used if the case goes to trial, he said.

“She never got to see the justice that she thought her husband deserved,” Eymann said.

Brown also wrote that Guardsmark opened itself to potential liability when guards took Mita in from the cold. They returned “him back outside the locked courthouse into the same peril, or into a new one,” he said, adding the issue was not addressed in Monasmith’s dismissal of the case.

Attorneys for Guardsmark and the county could not be reached for comment Tuesday. In court filings, attorneys for Guardsmark say Mita appeared in no medical or mental distress at the time he left the courthouse, and the county said its dispatchers followed protocol in filing a report following Floyd Mita’s call, deeming him not to be an “at-risk” individual based on the information provided.

County and Guardsmark attorneys also said Mita declined several offers of assistance from guards and court deputies.

The appellate court’s decision returns the case to Spokane County Superior Court for review, and no future court dates have been set. The Mita family has not offered a specific amount they seek in damages.

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