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Miccosukee tribal member ordered to pay $35M for fatal DUI crash

A jury has determined that a member of the West Miami-Dade Miccosukee tribe must pay $35 million in damages in the wrongful death suit brought by the adult children of two retired Maryland teachers who died as the result of a 2009 crash on the Tamiami Trail.

The defendant, whose brother was once the Miccosukee tribal chairman, pleaded guilty to DUI manslaughter in 2010, and is serving 12 years in prison. The civil judgment includes compensatory damages of $30 million plus punitive damages of $5 million. After a two-day trial, the jury took just 15 minutes to decide upon the $30 million judgment, and another two hours for the additional $5 million.

Whether the defendant has the money to pay the judgment is a matter of dispute. Lawyers for the plaintiffs pointed out that the defendant had hired well-known Florida defense attorney Roy Black to represent him on the criminal charges. His current attorneys, however, claim that he has no money.

The fatal crash occurred in February 2009, while the couple, both age 63, was visiting the area to attend their son's Naples art exhibition. According to authorities, the defendant drove his truck into the couple's lane, colliding with their car. He was found to have a blood alcohol level of triple Florida's legal limit. He already had a suspended driver's license.

Although the defendant had been arrested two previous times on DUI charges, one charge had to be dismissed because authorities were forbidden from serving a notice on the Everglades reservation where he lived. The tribe is not unfamiliar with DUI fatalities. Another member was found liable in a 1998 crash, and ordered to pay over $3 million in damages. Just this summer, after years of legal battles, the tribe was ordered to pay the damages.

The plaintiffs and their attorneys said that they hope the hefty judgment, whether it is ever paid or not, sends a message about drunk driving to the community, and specifically to the man at fault, will likely be free in 2020. Clearly, as is often the case, the family of the victims felt that the criminal penalty was not enough, and that a civil penalty was also in order. Obviously, in this instance, the jury who heard this sad case agreed.

Source: Miami Herald, "Jury award in West Miami-Dade double fatality DUI crash: $35 million" David Ovalle, Sep. 30, 2013

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