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Elderly cleaning woman trapped inside courthouse holding cell for 3 days sues security company


The Orange County Courthouse is seen Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

A courthouse janitor who was accidentally locked in a holding cell for three days has sued the security company she says is responsible for leaving her there.

Libia Vargas de Dinas, 72, was working an evening shift at the Orange County Courthouse in Orlando, Florida, on Jan. 27. She was employed by a cleaning service, and Allied Universal Technology Services provided security for the courthouse.

That day, Vargas de Dinas went through the step-by-step process to start her work.

That procedure, according to the complaint, went as follows:

The cleaning service person would give the defendants employee their driver’s license;

The cleaning service person would sign in a sheet that was provided and maintained by the defendants employees;

Once the defendants’ employee had the cleaning service persons driver’s license and their signature on the sign in sheet, defendants employee would give the cleaning service person keys to the area that that particular cleaning service person was assigned to clean; and

Once the above steps were completed, the cleaning service person was allowed entry in order to clean their designated area within the Orange County Courthouse.

At the end of the cleaner’s shift, Allied Universal employees were required to get the keys back from the cleaning person, return the cleaner’s driver’s license, and have the cleaning person sign out on the same sheet they used to sign in.

According to Vargas de Dinas’ complaint, something went horribly wrong during her 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. shift that day, which happened to be a Friday.

“While in the course of cleaning a holding cell, the door closed behind her and automatically locked,” the complaint says. “With no way to open the locked door from the inside, the plaintiff was trapped within the small holding cell.”

When the time came for Vargas de Dinas to check out, her absence appears to have gone unnoticed.

“Ten O’clock came and the cleaning crew all gave back the keys, had their licenses returned, signed out and left, with the exception of the plaintiff,” the complaint says.

Vargas de Dinas was trapped inside the cell all weekend.

“It wasn’t until Monday morning, January 30, 2023 that a sheriff’s deputy heard the Plaintiff’s cries for help,” the complaint says. “He unlocked the door and freed the Plaintiff from the holding cell.”

According to the negligence complaint, Allied was responsible for security at the courthouse the entire time, and failed to fulfill its duty to train its employees to “ensure that all cleaning service personnel returned at the end of their shift.”

“[A]s a result, the Plaintiff, LIBIA VARGAS DE DINAS, a 72-year-old insulin dependent woman was trapped in a small holding cell without essential insulin and no food from 9:00 p.m. Friday evening until approximately 7:00 a.m. Monday morning,” the complaint says.

She has since suffered bodily injury, disability, mental anguish, and “loss of capacity for the enjoyment of life,” as well as medical costs and an aggravation of a preexisting condition, the complaint alleges. She is suing for an amount between $50,000 and $75,000, according to court filings, but her lawyer told Law&Crime that the amount is likely to increase.

“[W]e will be asking for substantially more than what is on the paperwork,” attorney Bill McAfee told Law&Crime in an email, adding that recent changes to Florida personal injury law are forcing plaintiffs’ lawyers to rush to file lawsuits.

His client, meanwhile, is struggling with the aftermath of her ordeal.

“Victoria is still suffering,” McAfee said. “She cannot even close the door when she goes to the rest room. It gets worse at night. She has not gone back to work. It really looks like this event knocked her out of the work force.”

A spokesperson for Allied Universal told Law&Crime that the company is “unable to comment on pending litigation.”

Read the complaint here.

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