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Sheriff’s Office ordered to pay $292,000 in auto lawsuit


A jury has awarded a Vero Beach woman $292,000 in damages for medical expenses and pain and suffering she experienced after a deputy with the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office backed into a parked car she was inside. But it will be an uphill battle for the 29-year-old single mother to get all the money the jury said she is due.

Olivia Brown was pregnant and sitting alone in the passenger seat of a black Nissan Altima on June 29, 2014, when Deputy Ronald Adamson shifted his Chevrolet Tahoe truck into reverse and accidently smashed into the car. Adamson’s vehicle was owned by the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office.

The deputy told the responding officer he didn’t see the Nissan when the accident occurred around 8 p.m. near the 4600 block of 34th Avenue. He had been searching for a fugitive at a nearby residence when Brown and her acquaintance pulled up behind his vehicle.

Both cars were legally parked along the side of the road. Neither party received a traffic citation, although an internal review completed after the accident found that Adamson could have avoided the crash. He was sent a letter of reprimand by the Sheriff’s Office.

Brown and her friend were in the area to attend a child’s birthday party.

The mother of three had major spine surgery after the collision for a herniated disc in her lower back, said her lawyer, Timothy Felice, of Felice & Ehrlich in Palm Beach Gardens.

Brown, a convenience store clerk who is also studying business management, had medical bills of some $86,000.

Under Florida law, auto insurance only covers the first $10,000 when someone is injured in a car accident. If someone’s medical costs soar above that amount, suing can be their only option, Felice said.

The bulk of the Aug. 24, 2017 award – $236,000 – was for past and future medical expenses. The remaining $56,000 was compensation for Brown’s pain and suffering.

But it is unlikely Brown will ever see the full amount awarded, Felice said. Florida statute prohibits someone from claiming more than $200,000 for injuries sustained from an interaction with a government official. 

To get a full payment, Brown and her legal team must find a state legislator to introduce a claim bill on her behalf and then get the governor to sign off.

Medical experts, law-enforcement, and Brown’s friends and family were called to testify at the three-day trial. The six jurors were asked to consider causation and financial damages. Indian River Sheriff’s Office admitted liability before the proceedings began.

The law firm Purdy, Jolly, Giuffreda & Barranco represented Sheriff Deryl Loar’s department in the case. 

They questioned the financial motives of Brown and her doctors and challenged her credibility as a witness.  Records show Brown is a two-time convicted felon for crimes of fleeing or eluding a law-enforcement officer and possession of marijuana and cocaine. She also lied about her identity to a Vero Beach police officer in 2015.

Just 20 days after her back surgery, Brown was in a second car accident. At the time, she gave the officer her friend’s name. Brown was driving on a suspended license.

“We have a plaintiff who has spent a large part of her life with apparent disregard for the law,” wrote attorney Adrianna Jisa in a pre-trial brief.

The Sheriff’s Office twice attempted to have the case dismissed. But after the jury verdict, James Harpring, undersheriff and legal counsel for the Indian River Sheriff’s Department, said it was unlikely his office would appeal the decision. 

“Based on the facts, we were certainly surprised by the verdict, but the jury has spoken.”