Winning a Personal Injury lawsuit can be difficult. A Personal Injury lawyer and his client will ride many emotional waves during the course of the litigation, and hopefully after an exhausting battle you get to the conclusion and the Jury announces a verdict for your client. However, If the defendant was uninsured the most difficult part of the ordeal is just beginning-collecting on the Judgment. If the Defendant was an uninsured Miccosukee Tribe member collecting on that paper judgment may be more difficult than winning the underlying lawsuit.
As reported by the Miami Herald, In early October 1998 Carlos and Liliana Bermudez drove with their baby son Mathew across the Tamiami Trail to fish off a pier in Marco Island.
As they headed back that night, Tammy Gwen Billie, who was driving west in an Acura Legend crossed over the center line and slammed into the Bermudezes’ Toyota Cressida, near the Miccosukee Indian reservation. Liliana was killed as a result of the crash. Tammy Gwen Billie, whose three-year-old daughter, Lydia, was a passenger in her car, had been driving under the influence of cocaine and other drugs, according to police and toxicology reports. She eventually pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide in that case — after she was charged again on a separate drug-related driving offense in 2001 — and served eight years in prison.
In 2009, more than a decade later, Bermudez won a $3.17 million Wrongful Death verdict. The court entered judgment against the driver, Tammy Gwen Billie, and her father, Jimmie Bert, the owner of the uninsured Acura. But the father and daughter, both Miccosukee Tribe members, have refused to pay despite admitting fault at trial and losing all appeals, saying they don’t have the money.
For the Bermudez family, it has been virtually impossible to collect their Miami-Dade Circuit Court jury award, even when the defendants admit they have some assets.
In a court filing, Tammy Billie’s father, Bert, said he has received between $35,000 and $40,000 in quarterly distributions from the Miccosukee Tribe since 2007, and that he earned another $118,391 in 2009. In a separate filing, Billie, said she received between zero and $4,000 in quarterly distributions over the same period, and that she earned another $7,305 in 2009.
The Bermudezes’ civil case — resulting in a rare monetary judgment against the two Miccosukee Indians — reflects the extreme difficulty of suing members of a sovereign Indian nation.
In most litigation, the Miccosukee Tribe and its members cite sovereign nation status as a defense, saying they cannot be sued in U.S. courts or served with complaints or subpoenas on or off the reservation.
The legal strategy, used by the Miccosukees and other Indian tribes, usually wears down their opponents in court.
Those quarterly distributions likely came from the Miccosukee Tribe’s gambling profits at its casino operation in West Miami-Dade. The Internal Revenue Service, in an unrelated case, is investigating the tribe’s distribution of tens of millions of dollars a year to its 600 members, alleging that the Miccosukees have failed to report that income and withhold taxes, as required by law. The IRS estimates that each tribe member receives about $17,000 per quarter in gambling profits, though other sources familiar with the tribe’s finances say the payout is considerably higher. The Miccosukee Tribe counters that its members do not owe taxes on those distributions.
For Carlos Bermudez, 43, and his son, Mathew, now 14, the delay in getting compensated has dragged out their suffering.
Last month, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Genden sanctioned the two Miccosukee defendants and their Miami attorney, Michael Tein, citing their “abuse of the discovery process” as Rodriguez attempted to uncover potential sources of income, property and other assets to satisfy his client’s multimillion-dollar judgment. This legal process in referred to as discovery in aid of execution. A Plaintiff is not allowed to inquire as to a Defendant’s assets prior to securing a verdict. However, once the Plaintiff prevails, and a Judgment is entered, the Plaintiff is allowed to conduct discovery in hopes of finding assets to collect on that Judgment.
This case highlights the difficulty in collecting on Judgments, let alone those entered against members of a Sovereign Nation. As noted in the article, bringing a lawsuit against The Miccosukee Tribe and/or its members often proves to be futile. In this case the family and their attorney have been fighting for 13 years, and have only collected $31,000.00.
It will be very interesting to follow the remainder of this case to see if the two Miccosukee defendants comply with Judge Genden’s orders and reveal financial information which is clearly relevant and would have to be produced by an ordinary citizen of the United States.