The Miami Herald reports that the family of New York jazz musician Zachary Breaux has been awarded $5 million in damages in a wrongful death case that lasted longer than a decade and raised liability issues for seaside communities that don’t provide lifeguards at public beaches.
Breaux drowned in 1997 while trying to save a rabbi’s wife in treacherous riptides off Miami Beach. Eugenie Poleyeff had gone for a swim at Miami Beach. Caught in the riptides, she yelled for her husband Israel, but he didn’t hear her.
Breaux jumped into action and ran into the water.
“I saw Zachary reach her,” said his wife Frederica Breaux, a schoolteacher. “I thought he would bring her back in . . . It was over in an instant.”
Both of the tourists drowned when they were pulled under by the forceful riptides.
Frederica Breaux and Rabbi Israel Poleyeff both sued Miami Beach, claiming that the city should have had riptide warnings and lifeguards at the public beach. The city had provided parking, showers, and concessions to cater to the public at the beach, but the city had not provided lifeguards, safety equipment, or any kind of tide warnings.
Last week U.S. District Jude Alan Gold ordered Delaware-based Monticello Insurance to pay the damages to Frederica Breaux. The insurance company had previously refused to pay even though the family’s attorney and the city of Miami Beach had reached a settlement. Gold also ordered the insurance company to pay $750,000 to Rabbi Poleyeff. The city had also previously negotiated this settlement which the insurance company had refused to pay.
Since Breaux’s drowning, the Florida legislature has passed a law removing liability for seaside cities if they posted warning flags about dangerous conditions or if someone drowned due to natural causes. However, this law did not apply to the 1997 incident.
“The city at the time had created the appearance of a protected beach,” said Howard Pomerantz, attorney for the Breaux family. “All we were saying is that they should have posted signs that this was not a protected beach.”
Soon after the 1997 drowning deaths, the city put up a lifeguard stand at the beach. The cases never actually went to trial.
“The city long ago realized that if this went to trial, a jury sympathetic to the Breaux family’s case could return a huge verdict,” said Pomerantz. “The city wanted to do the right thing and settle with the victims, but they became a victim themselves when Monticello abandoned them by denying both coverage and defense.”
The judge ultimately ordered the insurance company to pay for the damages and reimburse the city for its $200,000 obligation under settlements. The judge also ordered the insurance company to pay interest on the damages plus attorney fees and costs for the decade-long case. Monticello may appeal the ruling.
When a property owner knows about a dangerous condition, that property owner may have the legal responsibility to warn the public about the danger. If you or a family member have been injured due to negligence on the part of a property owner, contact an experienced Georgia premises liability lawyer as soon as possible. You may be entitled to recovery. Call MLN Law at 404-531-9700 to schedule a free consultation.