$5.95 Million Settlement Agreement by Sarasota County for School Teacher Injured by County Truck
Kristin Steward, a second-grade school teacher, was jogging on an afternoon in May 2020 when she was hit from behind by a Sarasota County 2015 Ford F550 utility truck. She explains that the truck dragged her 65 feet, tearing her flesh and breaking several of her bones, before coming to a stop on her body with one of the vehicle’s big wheels. The accident put her in an induced coma, leaving her with lasting injury and putting an end to her teaching career.
She recently told Sarasota County commissioners, “I am unable to run or enjoy the activities that were a part of my daily life. I suffer from constant pain.”
Steward filed a lawsuit in December 2020 regarding the accident. The County Commission approved a $5.95 million settlement shortly after the hearing on May 24th.
In Florida, sovereign immunity protects governments from having to pay out large sums of money, even if they are at fault. To exceed the liability limits, the Florida Legislature and governor would need to approve a special bill that would allow Steward to receive the total settlement amount.
Kristin Stewart relocated to Sarasota in order to work as an elementary school teacher and be closer to her parents. She taught in the Sarasota County School District for 14 years, including 12 at Southside Elementary School. She was Southside’s second-grade team leader at the time of the accident.
Stewart was crossing Witmarsum Boulevard at Bahia Visten when the county worker driving the truck made a legal U-turn on Bahia Vista Street without seeing Stewart.
Steward told commissioners that the May 24th meeting, “After hitting me from behind, the county truck dragged me 65 feet up a concrete sidewalk, ripping the flesh from my arms, both hips and entire abdomen.” She goes on to say, “I felt the truck hit me. I remember every second of being dragged 65 feet on concrete, with the truck on top of me. I remember my bones breaking, and I remember my flesh being torn off. I remember the truck coming to a stop with its right front wheel on top of me, pinning me to the sidewalk under its weight.”
In addition to breaking several bones, the accident severed Stewart’s liver, lacerated her right kidney, bruised her colon, and caused other injuries. She was never unconscious. She spent weeks in the hospital, days on a ventilator in an induced coma, and underwent numerous surgeries.
“My pelvis had to be surgically fused together with two large, permanent screws and will never be able to flex like a normal pelvis,” explains Stewart. She goes on to say how she has nightmares about the incident multiple times a week. “I have been diagnosed with PTSD as a result of what I went through,” she said.
Kristin Steward’s injuries have also had an impact on her daughter, who was born in June. Her baby girl had to be delivered several weeks before her due date because Stewart had skin grafts that hampered the baby’s growth in utero.
“My daughter is healthy, but my limitations have affected her from the start,” Kristin explains, “Please know, I am trying to live a fulfilling and productive life to the best of my ability, despite what happened to me.”
The driver of the truck was cited for careless driving by the Flordia Highway Patrol and his license was suspended for three months. According to a Sarasota County spokesman, the driver retired from the county on June 1, 2020.
According to County Attorney Frederick Elbrecht, Stewart has received over $900,000 in medical expenses and is expected to receive an additional $400,000 in future medical expenses. Her economic loss, which includes wage and health insurance costs, is projected to be between $2.3 million and $2.75 million. Stewart’s doctors say that she is unable to work due to her injuries.
Elbrecht goes on to explain that Stewart has suffered non-economic losses as well, such as pain and loss of enjoyment of life, the value of which would have to be determined by a jury. He says a jury would likely award her between $3 million and $7.5 million for the non-economical damages.
Stewart had sought a settlement of $8.5 million to $10 million, but her legal counsel and the county attorney agreed to a $5.95 million settlement. The settlement was reached just prior to the trial. The settlement was unanimously approved by the County Commission.
“Our heart goes out to Ms. Stewart,” Commissioner Nancy Detert said. “We agree with her. Her injuries were startling and very tragic, and we support her in every way.”
In Florida, if an individual seeks more than $200,000 in damages from the state or local government, the Legislature must pass a claims bill authorizing the payment. Detert explains that the county commissioners can expedite the claim bill process by speaking with Sarasota County’s state legislators.
“How we can help is to talk to the members of our delegation – I’m sure they’re going to be 100% united in support of our position and Ms. Stewart’s position – and make sure that they work that claims bill really hard and get it done ASAP,” says Nancy Detert.
Claims bills sometimes take years to get the necessary approval. Governor Ron DeSantis signed a $3.5 million compensation bill from a settlement in a 2014 lawsuit involving the Osceola County School Board and a 13-year-old boy who suffered a brain injury during a school wrestling match.
Sarasota County will pay Stewart $200,000 before any legislative action is taken.
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