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Victim's family awaits $1.5-million

A sunbather dies when she's run over by a police vehicle in 2003. The settlement is incomplete.

Associated Press
Published January 9, 2006

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. - The family of a French sunbather killed when a police vehicle ran over her on the beach nearly three years ago is still waiting to receive the full $1.5-million from a settlement reached after the death.

The parents and sister of Stephanie Tunc, who died in February 2003, have received $200,000 from the settlement of a negligence lawsuit against the city of Miami Beach, but were waiting for the Florida Legislature to approve the rest of the money, said their attorney, Paul McKenna.

Under Florida law, the maximum settlement amount allowed to Florida municipalities is $200,000, so the remaining $1.3-million must be approved by the Legislature in a claims bill.

However, the bill was blocked from a floor vote in the 2005 session, and legislators don't meet again in Tallahassee until June.

A lobbyist was hired to get the bill passed, but McKenna said Senate President Tom Lee is standing in the way of the bill.

"He decides what gets on the floor and what doesn't," McKenna told the Miami Herald in a Sunday story.

Lee considers the current claims system flawed, including the influence of lobbyists in the process, and has instructed his staff to look for ways to improve it, Lee spokeswoman Kathy Mears said Sunday.

In an e-mail to the newspaper, Lee wrote: "The entire process is transacted in a political arena. The result? A system that often yields justice only for the well-connected, the wealthy or the lucky."

Stephanie Tunc and her sister, Sandrine Tunc, were sunning themselves on Miami Beach when they were run over by a sport utility vehicle driven by Miami Beach police officer George Varon.

Stephanie Tunc died from her injuries, but Sandrine Tunc survived. No criminal charges were brought against Varon.

A year after the death, the family reached the $1.5-million settlement. Sandrine Tunc, who lives in London, was set to receive $500,000 for her injuries, and the parents, who live outside in Paris, were set to receive $1-million. But each party has received $100,000 so far.

As they wait for the rest, the Tunc family is struggling to cope with their loss and are angry over the Legislature's inaction.

McKenna said Sandrine Tunc, who suffered a punctured lung, a lacerated liver and tire burns in the incident, is still suffering from medical problems and no longer works as a beautician.

"Sandrine is anorexic and is under psychiatric care," McKenna said. "She lives in a flat in a not-so-nice part of town. She hasn't been to the beach again. You have to understand that these sisters were like twins."

Miami Beach implemented tougher policies for emergency vehicles on the beach after the incident, but the settlement did not include an admission of liability.

[Last modified January 9, 2006, 00:56:11]

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