ORANGE PARK, Fla. -- The case of a woman badly injured when she was run by a truck over on Daytona Beach is being heard by a Volusia County jury this week.
Erin Joynt was sunbathing in July 2011 when a lifeguard attempting a U-turn ran over her head, fracturing her eye sockets and permanently paralyzing her face. The Kansas woman, represented by Jacksonville attorney John Phillips, is suing, hoping for a payout larger than Florida's $100,000 cap on personal injury damages in cases against state agencies.
The case brings to mind a similar one out of Jacksonville Beach that did not result in legal action.
Anne Marie Giffin was sunbathing on the beach in May 2009 when she was struck by an official vehicle. In her case, Jacksonville Beach Police Officer Lewis Keller attempted a U-turn, and accidentally drove over her – twice. "It rolled over me, and then it came back again," she told First Coast News. "And my thought was, oh no it's coming again." Witnesses later told Giffin that beachgoers began screaming at Keller after his first pass over her, promoting him to back up fearing he'd hit something. When he did stop, she was trapped under the SUV.
Badly injured, but conscious, her memories of those first few moments are alternately fuzzy and specific.
"About 8 people surrounded the vehicle and lifted it off the ground," she recalls. "And somebody dragged me out by my ankles."
Her injuries were extensive -- fractured vertebra, fractured pelvis, broken ribs, a deep puncture wound in her lower back, cuts and abrasions and a head injury she compares to "being scalped." They had to staple [the scalp] back together.
Giffin does not remember pain. "I think shock and the pressure of the vehicle on top of me was just so great that I blocked everything out," she says. But she does recall knowing pain was coming. "In my mind I just was thinking, OK this is going to hurt."
A musical prodigy who has played piano since she was three and performed as a soloist with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, Giffin could do little by heal in the eight months that followed the accident. In the end, she made a full recovery.
But she was not able to recover all of her costs. Because of a law adopted by the state legislature during a period of anti trial-lawer fervor, damages against government agencies from that period are capped at $100,000. Giffin settled her case against the Jacksonville Beach police department for exactly that amount.
"It mostly went to my lawyer and to pay my hospital bills," she says, "and it didn't quite pay all the hospital bills."
For that reason, she's interested in the Erin Joynt case. Joynt injuries were more extensive and long lasting; among her injuries, according to her lawyer: she's physically lost the ability to cry. But even if the jury awards her more than the state cap, the state legislature would still have to approve any payout above 100,000.
For her part, Giffin says she doesn't blame the city or the officer.
But she does believe state law capping damages needs to change. "Mistakes happen… but there should there should be a lot more leeway in that. And especially it something that is going to be life changing … there should be no cap on it."