Eric Tenner was an avid cyclist who was conscientious of bicycle safety and wearing the recommended equipment associated with riding. He had a happy family life with his wife, Maria, and their two young children. By all accounts, The Tenner’s were heading towards a loving and bright future.
Unfortunately, Mr. Tenner was involved in an accident that would change their lives forever. His survivors would eventually file a lawsuit against Miami-Dade County and receive special consideration on damage caps against the government.
The Day of the Accident
During his regular morning exercise routine, Mr. Tenner stopped just south of the intersection at SW 124th and US-1 Busway in Miami-Dade, County. Unexpectedly, a bus driver, Jose Sequeira, struck Mr. Tenner from behind. The competitive cyclist died just days later while in the care of Kendall Regional Medical Center in Miami.
Police subsequently arrested Mr. Sequeira after leaving the scene of an accident. The case against him was particularly damaging since he caused severe bodily harm to Mr. Tenner. The State of Florida eventually dropped criminal charges against him since it was unable to prove Mr. Sequeira knew he had struck a cyclist.
A Second County Bus Driver Becomes an Eye-Witness
A second bus driver, Miguel Mora, was driving directly behind Mr. Sequeira and witnessed the entire event. He pulled over to provide medical assistance to Mr. Tenner while on his regular route. During the trial, Mr. Mora testified that it was a common occurrence to experience heavy pedestrian and cycling activity in the area.
He also attested that pedestrians are frequently struck by motor vehicles at the same intersection where Tenner met his fate. He stated that bus drivers are always on “pins and needles” due to the lively nature of the intersection and surrounding locations. “As professional bus drivers, they are held to a higher standard. They’re constantly getting hit. There’s a lot of accidents on the Busway,” said Mora.
During any given lawsuit, Florida laws require the parties to exchange information and evidence as par for the course. This period is known as the ‘discovery phase.’ In this particular case, Miami-Dade County attorneys stated that the busway is limited to use by emergency and transit vehicles only.
This assertion was a hotly contested issue during the lawsuit. The main question kept returning to whether Mr. Sequeira should have been able to reasonably see and anticipate the presence of pedestrians and bicyclists in the area before sunrise.
Sovereign Immunity Limits Played a Role in the Case
Initially, the courts allowed both parties to skip the typical mediation phase of a lawsuit. Mediation is a formal meeting of the plaintiffs, defendants, and their attorneys to resolve the case out-of-court. Doing so reduces stress on an already overcrowded legal system.
The mediation requirement was waived since Mr. Tenner’s survivors would not voluntarily accept the state’s sovereign immunity limits. As time progressed, both parties reconsidered the possibility of settlement negotiations that reflected contributed negligence from both sides.
Expert Testimony Raises the Bar on Damages
On May 16, 2017, Fred Raffa, an economist, testified that the Estate of Eric Scott Tenner suffered losses in excess of $3.5 million. The defense did not argue with this number. However, sovereign immunity laws capped damages against government entities to $300,000.
A Claims Bill Increases Access to Justice
On April 17, 2019, the Florida Senate passed HB 6513, also known as ‘the claim bill.” Instead of limiting damage caps to $300,000, HB 6513 sought approval to pay Mr. Tenner’s estate $1.45 million.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill and was enacted to pay a fair sum to Tenner’s survivors. Even though sovereign immunity laws are in place to protect government agencies, lawmakers can pass individual bills to approve payments well over limits.
State sovereign-immunity laws place limits on the liability of government agencies. However, lawmakers can pass claim bills directing payments higher than those limits. Before the bill’s passage, Miami-Dade County had previously paid $300,000 to the estate.
Florida Senators voted 34-2 in favor of the bill. Sen. George Gainer, R-Panama City, and Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, opposed the bill.
About Kaire Heffernan, LLC
Kaire Heffernan, LLC is a personal injury law firm serving Miami-Dade County, FL, and surrounding areas. If you were negligently injured in an accident involving a government agency, discuss your case with a member of our legal team today. You can schedule your free, no-obligation consultation by calling 305-372-0123 or by sending us a quick note.