Drunk Driver Who Killed Two Must Pay $35 Million
Thomas Cypress’ blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit when he crossed the median on the Tamiami Trail in West Miami-Dade and slammed head-on into a sedan, killing Robert and Paulette Kirkpatrick. The Kirkpatricks, who were from Maryland, were in Florida for vacation and to attend an art show where Robert was exhibiting his work.
Their children, represented by brothers Judd and Brett Rosen, of the Miami law firm Goldberg & Rosen, sued Cypress for wrongful death.
Cypress was driving with a suspended license at the time of the crash because of an earlier DUI. Before that, he had already been arrested twice for drunk driving.
At trial, there was no argument over whether Cypress was at fault for the couple’s deaths, only over how much he should pay.
Two of the Kirkpatricks’ adult children, Jennifer and Steven, testified, as did rescue workers who responded at the accident scene.
The jury deliberated for only 15 minutes before awarding $30 million in compensatory damages.
“I think the jury honored our parents by sending a message to our community that drinking and driving is not something it is going to stand for,” said the couple’s son, Steven.
The jury then spent another two hours deciding that Cypress should pay another $5 million in punitive damages.
According to the family’s lawyers, the defendant could afford to pay even more. They explained to the jury that Cypress, convicted of manslaughter in the death of the Kirkpatricks, had been able to hire a high-powered defense attorney to represent him in his criminal trial. However, that attorney, Roy Black, filed court papers saying his client is broke.
The lawyers for the family also told the jury that punitive damages would help deter Cypress from driving drunk again. He is currently serving a 12-year sentence for manslaughter of the Kirkpatricks and is due to leave prison in 2020.
“When Thomas Cypress gets out of prison, there is no telling how he is going to interact with alcohol,” Brett Rosen said.