Florida County Pays $4 Million for Girl with Severed Spine

May 25, 2022

MIAMI (AP) — Miami-Dade County has agreed to pay a record $4 million for the care of a girl whose spinal cord was severed in a crash with a police cruiser that was speeding into an intersection with non-working stoplights as a hurricane approached nearly six years ago.

The additional $3.8 million settlement is the largest claim the county has ever paid, and far exceeds an initial $200,000 the county already paid in damages for Yeilyn Quiroz Otero, the Miami Herald reported. But it’s far short of what she’ll need.

Most of the award will satisfy her past medical and legal bills, leaving less than $1.5 million for future medical bills. Her lawyers estimated that she’ll need more than $11 million for lifetime care, and deserves another $10 million for pain and suffering. But a special master found that her mother and the driver of their car were also at fault, lowering the county’s share of the blame.

The claim bill was signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis last Friday.

The 13-month-old child was sitting on her mother’s lap while the family went to Walmart on Oct. 6, 2016 to pick up baby supplies as Hurricane Matthew approached Florida, the newspaper reported. At the same time, a Miami-Dade police officer was speeding at 75 mph in a 40 mph zone, pursuing a suspect who had jumped out of a stolen car and was running through a neighborhood.

The two vehicles collided in an intersection where the stoplights weren’t working due to a power failure caused by approaching Hurricane Matthew.

The family’s lawsuit against the county and police department was settled three years later. Without admitting fault, the county agreed to pay the statutory cap of $200,000 and agreed not to contest a $3.8 million claim bill, Assistant County Attorney Richard Schevis told a hearing before a special master for the Florida Legislature. The legislative claim bill allows compensation beyond the immunity cap.

“This will make a real difference for our client,” said attorney Frank Maderal. “With these funds we hope she will be able to avoid being placed in a public nursing home when she turns 18 and will instead continue to receive in-home nursing so she can keep living with her family who loves her.”

“We never gave up,” Maderal told the newspaper. “It was equal parts lawyering, politicking, and pleading for our client. In the end we set a record. This case and this client will always have a special place for me.”

Senate Special Master Eva M. Davis found the county and Officer Daniel Escarra at fault for exceeding the allowable speed under police policy as he headed to a crime scene, and failing to stop at an intersection with non-working lights.

But she also found that the driver of the Audi and the girl’s mother partly responsible for the girl’s injury. Hector Meraz-Funez did not have a valid driver’s license, was not wearing a seat belt, allowed eight people to ride without seatbelts in his compact sedan, and should have yielded to the lights and siren of a speeding police vehicle, she found. Fany Otero is to blame for not securing her daughter into a car seat, she found.

Meraz-Funez has been in a vegetative state since the crash, unable to move or communicate, Davis noted.

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