Judge affirms $32M award against Mo. firefighter in crash that killed 3
Kansas City firefighter Dominic Biscari was driving Pumper 19 as it struck an SUV, a pedestrian and a building
By Bill Lukitsch
The Kansas City Star
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Jackson County judge has approved a $32 million arbitration award rendered against Kansas City firefighter Dominic Biscari stemming from a fatal crash involving a fire engine that left three people dead in Westport in December.
Judge Jennifer M. Phillips confirmed the settlement in an order on Tuesday in accordance with Missouri law that such awards be approved by the court. The judgment, which concerns Biscari personally, came through arbitration proceedings that concluded last month.
On Dec. 15, Biscari was behind the wheel of Kansas City Fire Pumper 19 when the engine was headed north on Broadway Boulevard and struck an SUV at Westport Road shortly after being called to a reported structure fire. The crash happened about one minute after the fire crew was advised by dispatchers to stand down.
The SUV, occupied by Jennifer San Nicolas and Michael Elwood, was pushed through the intersection and up Broadway as the fire engine continued on into a series of cars parked along the street. Tammi Knight, a pedestrian who was about to enter a vehicle, was struck as the fire engine crashed into her and through the facade of a commercial building that once housed a popular bar.
The SUV was pushed onto the sidewalk. After the fire engine busted through a brick wall, the building’s upper floor collapsed, trapping Knight underneath a pile of rubble for 10 hours. All three were declared dead at the scene.
In October, retired Judge Miles Sweeney — assigned to oversee arbitration proceedings in the matter of wrongful death claims brought against Biscari specifically — found that his driving that night was clearly reckless and that KCFD was already “on notice of (Biscari’s) dangerous and reckless driving of KCFD vehicles.”
In his summary, Sweeney found that the loved ones of the victims — and the owner of the destroyed building — deserved to be paid a collective $32 million by Biscari in compensation.
Sweeney awarded $9 million to the parents of Elwood; $11 million to the mother of Knight, and $2 million to Knight’s romantic partner; and $9 million to the mother of San Nicolas. Another $1.4 million was awarded to the company that owns the destroyed building.
Biscari was not represented by legal counsel in the civil lawsuit and agreed to handle the wrongful death claims through arbitration.
Biscari also likely does not have $32 million to pay the families. But civil attorneys may be attempting to hold KCFD accountable for the sum through a legal mechanism known as vicarious liability, where an employer may be held responsible for the actions of an employee during the official course of duty. Tim Dollar, the designated lead civil attorney on the case, has declined to comment.
Attorneys for the families allege the city and the fire department were negligent in allowing Biscari to operate a 40,000-pound fire engine on the night of the crash. Among the evidence they have cited is a warning one employee shared with fire officials a little less than three months before the deadly crash unfolded.
The employee told supervisors that Biscari accelerated to 70 mph on Broadway in an ambulance when it wasn’t necessary while they were transporting a critically ill patient, and vowed she would never ride with him “ever again.”
Wrongful death claims filed against the city, and more specifically the Kansas City Fire Department, are still ongoing in Jackson County Circuit Court. KCFD has said the department does not comment on pending litigation.