A wrongful death lawsuit against the Miccosukee Tribe over a fatal car accident on tribal lands has once again run into resistance in the courts.
On January 20, 2009, Coconut Grove resident Tatiana Furry left Miccosukee Resort & Gaming after a night of gambling and drinking and then got into a head-on collision with another vehicle on the Tamiami Trail about four miles from the casino. The crash, which was shrouded in controversy over the way the Miccosukee police investigated it, killed Furry. She was later discovered to have had a blood-alcohol content of .32 at the time of the wreck.
Tatiana's father, John Furry, sued the Miccosukees in December 2010, alleging the resort had served his daughter despite her "habitual addiction" to alcohol and then continued to serve her and allowed her to get into a car and leave despite her visibly drunken state. The Miccosukees claimed the lawsuit violated their tribal sovereign immunity.
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida agreed with them, and this past June 29, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision. In its ruling, the Circuit Court stated that "the underlying facts of this wrongful death suit... are both straightforward and heartbreaking" but that the U.S. Supreme Court had "made clear that a suit against an Indian tribe is barred unless the tribe has clearly waived its immunity."
Bruce Rogow, the attorney for Furry, tells Riptide that the legal defeat isn't the end of the road for his client or the case.
"We're taking this to the Supreme Court for review," Rogow says. "We feel like we have a much better chance than most."
Rogow believes that the issue of Native American sovereignty is one that the Supreme Court would be interested in addressing and that Furry's case is "especially egregious."
"It's very sad there's no remedy for my client," he says. "If a bar on Miami Beach had done this, there would be a remedy. The fact that an Indian tribe can use this immunity as a shield makes this an interesting case for the court."
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If the case is accepted for Supreme Court review, Rogow thinks the Miccosukees, rather than risk losing tribal sovereignty going forward, could be open to a settlement. As of yet, no settlement has been offered.
Attempts to reach either the Miccosukees' attorneys or Furry were unsuccessful.
The Miccosukees have been busy in the courts in recent days. On July 3, the tribe sued its former chairman, Billy Cypress, accusing him of stealing $26 million to use on gambling and real-estate investments. Cypress's lawyers, Guy Lewis and Michael Tein, are also involved in a lawsuit filed by the family of a woman killed in another car accident on the Tamiami Trail in 1998. The two tribe members at fault, Tammy Gwen Billie and Jimmie Bert, have said they don't have the money to pay the family of Liliana Bermudez. Lewis and Tein, meanwhile, were reprimanded by a Miami-Dade appeals court in late June for trying to get the judge for the lawsuit thrown off the case.