Court won't make Miccosukee Tribe pay $4.1M in wrongful death

The logo of the Miccosukee Tribe

The Miccosukee Tribe doesn't have to pay $4.1 million in a wrongful death case, a Florida appeals court ruled on Wednesday.

Two tribal members were found responsible for the death of a woman in a drunken-driving accident. But Tammy Gwen Billie and her father, Jimmie Bert, haven't paid the judgment, citing a lack of funds.

So Carlos Bermudez, the husband of the woman who was killed, added the tribe to the suit. A judge held the tribe responsible, noting that it paid legal fees for the Miccosukee defendants.

The Third District Court of Appeal was sympathetic to Bermudez, who has been trying to collect the judgment since August 2009. But the court said the tribe can't be substituted for its members.

"A nonparty cannot be added to a lawsuit after a jury trial has been conducted and a final judgment has been entered in order to hold the nonparty liable to pay the tort damages awarded against another merely because the nonparty funded or assisted in the defense of a lawsuit," the decision stated.

The original judgment was $3.177 million. With interest, it has grown to just over $4.1 million.

The tribe paid $3.1 million in legal fees throughout the case, according to documents obtained by Bermudez. The money went to a law firm run by two high-priced former U.S. Attorneys.

“I’m just shocked by the amount of these fees,” a lower court judge said in April 2013, The Miami Herald reported at the time. “I’m just flabbergasted.”

Billie and Bert have testified that they didn't ask the tribe to pay the fees. But the tribe apparently has been taking deductions from their per capita payments to cover the cost of legal services.

Tribal members reportedly receive $164,000 a year.

Get the Story:
Miami appeals court rules Miccosukees don’t have to pay $4 million judgment in car-crash case (The Miami Herald 7/3)

Florida Court of Appeals Decision:
Miccosukee Tribe v. Bermudez (July 2, 2014)

Related Stories:
Miccosukee Tribe asked to pay $3.2M for wrongful death case (06/21)
Judge fines attorneys $50K for handling of Miccosukee clients (04/18)
Lawyer contradicts testimony from former Miccosukee clients (4/17)
Miccosukee family doesn't know who paid $3.1M to legal team (4/16)

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