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Pinellas County Sheriff's Office Settles with Man Paralyzed in Wreck with Deputy for $16 MM

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A St. Petersburg man paralyzed in a collision with an unmarked Pinellas County Sheriff's vehicle has agreed with the sheriff's office on a $16 million settlement on Wednesday.

Local media quoted Sheriff Bob Gualtieri as saying that his office accepts complete responsibility for the accident and believes that this is the best way to rectify the situation. According to Gualtieri, this settlement is likely the largest in the history of the Sheriff's Office.

There seems to be little argument about the fact pattern - on January 12, Cpl. Joe Miner, who was driving an unmarked Buick LaCrosse with two detectives as passengers, pulled out of the Dunkin' Donuts on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street just south of 62nd Avenue N in front of Eli Ulibarri, who was traveling southbound on a motorcycle on MLK Street.

Ulibarri, who was properly helmeted and whose motorcycle was appropriately illuminated, attempted to avoid the police vehicle by locking up the brakes and laying it down. He and the motorcycle struck the side of the other vehicle, sending him to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg with collapsed lungs, lacerations to his liver and a kidney, and a spinal cord that was broken in two different places. Ulibarri, who turned 21 while recuperating in the hospital, is now confined to a wheelchair. The three sheriff's deputies were uninjured in the wreck.

Prior to the latest settlement, the Sheriff tendered $200,000 to Ulibarri, which is the maximum liability claim per Florida statute. However, Ulibarri's attorney Andrew Knopf subsequently presented the Sheriff's Office with an itemized list of damages he incurred in the incident (including medical expenses and loss of wages), totaling tens of millions of dollars.

The settlement funds were drawn entirely from the Sheriff's Office insurance policy, save for a $1 million deductible. The Pinellas County Commissioners voted unanimously to use reserve funds to cover the deductible. The payout is set up as a structured settlement, whereby Ulibarri's family will receive an initial, smaller payout, with the remainder deposited into an interest-bearing account.

Miner, a twelve-year veteran on the force, pled no contest to a failure to yield charge for causing the accident. He paid $618 in fines and other court costs, and his driver's license was suspended for one year. Miner subsequently obtained a hardship license for driving to and from work after he completed a traffic school course. He was not subject to punishment by the Sheriff's Office, and is still employed as a deputy.

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