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Kansas City Star - May 8, 1998

The Quy Nguyen Case: Check Stirs Debate on Damage Cap


Kansas City Star


Kim Anh Cong dreamed of a brighter future when she left Vietnam and moved to America in 1993.

But Cong’s dreams died last August with her 23-month-old son, Quy Nguyen, who drowned in a street pit, a few feet from the family’s front door in northeast Kansas City. The hole was seven feet deep.

On Thursday, a Jackson County Circuit Court Judge approved a $100,000 settlement for the family. Cong squeezed a small black sock that belonged to Quy and cried as she and her husband , Nam Nguyen, accepted a check from a city attorney.

Kansas City ordinances require that street excavations be secure, but a city work crew left the hole uncovered. Assistant City Attorney Galen Beauford maintained that the city was not negligent.

He said city officials were saddened by the tragedy.

“We wanted to treat them fairly, that’s why we offered them the settlement.”

The family’s attorney, Anita Porte Robb, criticized the settlement as an “inadequate remedy.”

Under the state’s damage cap, $100,000 is the maximum amount anyone can collect for negligence by a city or county. Sovereign immunity legislation was enacted in 1977 to safeguard municipalities from endless suits and treasury-draining court settlements.

Opponents of the ceilings argue that the amount has not increased with inflation.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, general inflation from 1977 to 1997 was 167 percent.

In a written statement after Thursday’s settlement, Cong and Nguyen said they pray the city will improve safety practices as a result of their son’s death.

“No other family should have to go through what we have,” read Minh Manuel, the family’s translator. “We also pray that the Missouri Legislature will change the law to hold cities fully responsible for their recklessness in the future.”

The Missouri General Assembly is considering a bill that would raise the damage cap from $100,000 to $300,000.

Rep. Brian May of St. Louis, a sponsor of the bill, said that $300,000 still may be inadequate in many cases, but that the increase is a move in the right direction

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