Commissioner Detert talks of necessity of working with county’s Legislative Delegation to ensure approval of state bill necessary for Kristin Stewart to receive more than $200,000
The very first person to appear at the podium in the Sarasota County Commission Chambers on May 24, during the Open to the Public comment period, was the woman whose $5,950,000 settlement with the county over a tragic accident was listed under the Reports Section of the day’s agenda.
“I suffer from constant pain,” Kristin A. Stewart told the commissioners. “The life I had was taken away from me.”
Stewart first talked of moving to Sarasota in 2007, after she graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. Her parents live in the county, she continued, so part of her motivation was to be near them.
She spent the next 14 years teaching first and second grade in the Sarasota County School District, Stewart said; she spent the last 12 at Southside Elementary School, where she was the second grade team leader.
“Deciding to make my life here was one of the best decisions I could have made,” Stewart added. Her work was “challenging and fulfilling,” she said, but she also “enjoyed the outdoors, beaches and waters.” Moreover, she pointed out, she met her husband, who proposed to her in February 2020.
Her normal routine, along with teaching, was to run 8 to 10 miles a day, Stewart told the commissioners. Running was what she was doing on May 13, 2020, she said, when a Sarasota County employee in a truck struck her from behind and dragged her 65 feet on concrete, “ripping the flesh from [her] arms, both hips and entire abdomen. The ‘degloving’ injuries were so deep,” she continued, “they shaved down part of my pelvis and tore off my belly button. The truck crushed my pelvis and sacrum,” broke seven vertebra “and snapped five ribs.”
The impact of the truck on her body tore her liver in half, Stewart said, lacerated her right kidney, bruised her colon, collapsed her right lung and caused internal bleeding.
“I never lost consciousness,” she told the commissioners, her voice quavering. “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.”
When the truck finally came to a stop, she said, the right front wheel was on top of her, pinning her to the sidewalk. “I remember asking the county employee to put the truck in gear and back the truck off my body,” Stewart added. “I remember the pain, and I still have significant pain today. I have nightmares about this several times a week.”
She has been diagnosed with PTSD, Stewart said.
She spent three months in the hospital, she added, including “many days on a ventilator in an induced coma. I underwent grueling post-operative treatment after my skin-graft 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.”
The debris from the sidewalk that was introduced into her body through the pelvic injuries resulted in what could have been deadly infections, she pointed out.
Her medical care left her with bills of more than $917,000, she said. Moreover, “I need significant care and treatment in the future,” she pointed out.
The accident resulted in her losing her career as a teacher, Stewart said, and she is “unable to run or enjoy the activities that were a part of [her] daily life.”
After her marriage, she continued, she gave birth to a daughter on June 23, 2021, but the baby’s growth in utero was restricted by the skin grafts that she had had to undergo. Even though her daughter is healthy, Stewart added, “She had to be delivered several weeks before her due date.”
“I’m trying to live a fulfilling and productive life to the best of my ability,” Stewart said, “despite what happened to me.”
Stewart expressed her appreciation to “all the amazing paramedics, law enforcement officers, doctors, nurses” and other medical staff members who “worked tirelessly to save [her] life. I know if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be standing before you today.”
She then asked the commissioners, “respectfully,” to approve the settlement.
“Thank you, ma’am,” Chair Alan Maio responded.
The ‘claims bill’ process
Later that morning, Commissioner Ron Cutsinger made the motion to do exactly as Stewart had asked, and Commissioner Nancy Detert seconded the motion. With Commissioner Michael Moran absent because he was “under the weather,” as Maio said at the outset of the meeting, the motion passed 4-0.
Chief Deputy County Attorney Karl A. Senkow explained that the $5.95-million settlement with Stewart is subject to the Florida Legislature’s approval of a “claim bill,” which will have to be introduced in the 2023 session. That session will begin in March 2023.
The county will pay her $200,000, in the meantime, Senkow noted. The county also has $2 million in insurance to help with the settlement, he said.
Commissioner Christian Ziegler reported that a couple of people had asked him about the settlement terms. “I think that people should know,” he continued, “that both sides worked on this. … Everyone’s been working together very cordial …”
Ziegler then voiced concern that “sometimes these claims bills can take forever [in the Legislature].”
Having served in both the Florida House and Senate before her first election to the County Commission, in 2016, Commissioner Detert explained that the best way to expedite the process “is to have a [county legislative] delegation that works this [issue] very hard.”
She handled one claims bill for the county when she was still in the Legislature, Detert added. “How we can help is talk to the members of our Delegation. I’m sure they’re going to be 100% committed in support of our position and Ms. Stewart’s position and work it really hard and get it done ASAP.”
Referring again to Stewart, Detert said, “She’s a true champion.”