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Drowning Victims' Families Win in Decade-Long Miami Beach Case

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Over a decade ago, New York jazz musician, Zachary Breaux, attempted to save the life of a drowning woman who was caught in treacherous riptides off Miami Beach. Unfortunately, Breaux and the woman, Eugenie Poleyeff, both died in the incident. However, Breaux’s wife recently won $5 million in damages and Poleyeff’s husband received $750,000 in damages.

Initially, both Frederica Breaux and Israel Poleyeff sued Miami Beach after the drowning deaths of their spouses. They alleged that the city had an obligation to provide lifeguards and to post riptide warnings at the public beach. However, state circuit and appellate courts didn’t allow the cases to go to trial, stating that the city wasn’t responsible for ocean conditions. Nevertheless, the state Supreme Court agreed to review that opinion because it contradicted a decade of high-court rulings that did hold Florida seaside communities liable. In 2005, the state Supreme Court found that cities–like private property owners–are responsible for warning beachgoers of dangerous conditions that are known or should be known.

Despite the high court’s ruling, Monticello, the city’s insurer, refused to either defend Miami Beach or pay the Breaux or the Poleyeff estates, even though the city had reached a settlement with both families to avoid going to trial. Friday’s ruling, however, forces Monticello to pay the damages to both families and to reimburse the city for $200,000 for failing to meet its obligations as the insurer for the city. Furthermore, the judge also ordered Monticello to pay interest on the damages as well as the attorneys’ fees and costs for the decade-long case.