Jury awards millions in punitive damages in DUI crash
MIAMI (WSVN) -- A jury has awarded $5 million in punitive damages to the family of a Maryland married couple who perished when a Miccosukee tribal member crashed into their car.
Thomas Cypress, the brother of former Miccosukee Chairman Billy Cypress, was already sentenced to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of manslaughter and ordered to pay $30 million for compensation in the pain and suffering and loss of parental guidance to the two surviving children of Robert and Paulette Kirkpatrick.
On Monday, the jury awarded the Kirkpatricks' children, Steve and Jennifer, $5 million in punitive damages, in addition to the $30 million.
Cypress' blood-alcohol level was three and a half times the legal limit in February 2009 when he smashed his vehicle into the Kirkpatricks' car in Tamiami Trail. He had been driving with a suspended license after he was arrested for two prior DUI's.
Punitive damages are made to deter the defendant and the community from committing the same crime. "Ultimately, wanted to get the word across to the community that drunk driving is not acceptable," said the Kirkpatrick's attorney Brett Rosen.
The Kirkpatricks' son took to the stand Monday hoping his family's story will help keep such tragic accidents from happening again. "To stop someone from doing it in the first place," Steve Kirkpatrick said. "The more expensive ... the dumb decision [to drink and drive] will cost to someone, the greater the consequences that someone faces for the rest of their life and for their family, the better. The more media that's around the dangers of drinking and driving, the better."
Cypress' attorneys argued that their client's jail time and the millions he is already required to pay should cover the punitive damages.
The Kirkpatrick children spoke out after deliberations. "They honored my parents by saying to their community, to my community, that they're not going to accept drunk driving," Steve Kirkpatrick said. "I think with this, with their verdict, they sent that message loud and clear."
"There are so many ways to get around, it's not necessary. It's really not," Jennifer Kirkpatrick said. "You have public transportation, you have cabs, you can stay home, you can go with a friend."
The Kirkpatricks said the tragedy robbed them of countless memories with their parents. "My wedding, the birth of both my children were very hard and to miss them," Jennifer Kirkpatrick said.
Cypress chose not to be in court Monday. How he will be able to pay the total amount is yet to be determined. His defense had no comment.
The Kirkpatricks hope their story will serve as guidance to save others. "Spend the extra few dollars to get home safely so you can be home with your family and families that you've never even met before can be with theirs," Steve Kirkpatrick said.
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