Under settlement, Hawaii County to pay $15M to family of man fatally struck by Big Island officer

Published: Aug. 31, 2019 at 12:20 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii County will pay $15.1 million to the family of a Michigan real estate executive who was fatally struck by a Big Island police officer four years ago.

It’s believed to be the state’s largest wrongful death settlement.

Jeffrey Surnow was killed in 2015 when he was struck by a police patrol car while riding a bicycle. The officer at the time was working on his second consecutive eight-hour shift.

Until recently, Big Island Police routinely required officers to work these back-to-back shifts, attorneys for Surnow’s family said.

“In this case, what that policy led to is the officer being awake for more than 26 hours at the time of the accident. All the evidence indicates that he fell asleep," said Thomas Otake, attorney for Surnow’s wife and children.

The officer, Jody Buddemeyer, was convicted last year of misdemeanor negligent homicide and was sentenced to one year of probation. Buddemeyer no longer works for Big Island Police, and is appealing.

“He knew he was fatigued and yet he didn’t take the responsible step to pull over and rest. He had previously complained about this double-back shift policy," added Michael Livingston, also an attorney for the Surnow family.

Big Island police has since dropped its double-shift policy, paving the way for last week’s settlement.

Despite the size of the settlement in the state, Surnow’s attorneys said the settlement was for far less than what his potential earnings would have been.

The real estate company Surnow founded now owns or manages hundreds of million of dollars of properties, mostly in Michigan.

Along with his real estate business, Surnow was well known for his charitable works as a major supporter of Michigan’s Make-a-Wish Foundation and for providing financial assistance to victims of the deadly earthquake in Nepal in 2015.

Much of the settlement’s proceeds will go to a charitable foundation that’s being set up by the Surnow family.

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