MIAMI — A lawsuit filed Thursday claims that a popular South Beach hotel regularly served alcoholic drinks to an on-duty police officer who later crashed his speeding all-terrain vehicle into two people strolling the beach before dawn, seriously injuring both. The hotel called the allegations false.
The lawsuit filed on behalf of Kitzie Nicanor, 29, seeks unspecified damages from the Clevelander Hotel and Derick Kuilan, who was fired from the Miami Beach Police Department shortly after the July 3 crash. Kuilan, 30, also faces criminal charges in the case.
Nicanor suffered a traumatic brain injury that will likely require years of rehabilitation, said her attorney Frank Toral. Nicanor, a Seattle resident who has a 1-year-old son, remains hospitalized in stable condition. Her parents are caring for her son.
Since the crash she has suffered memory loss, problems talking, paralysis on her right side and difficulty concentrating. Nicanor also had perforations in her heart, a broken leg and a damaged spleen that was removed.
"This accident was needless, senseless and it could have been prevented," Toral said, adding that her recovery costs could range into the millions of dollars.
"She's slowly progressing, but it's a very difficult situation."
The lawsuit, filed in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court, contends that the Clevelander regularly allowed on-duty police officers to drink alcohol and hang out at its nightclubs. Earlier this week, Miami Beach Police Chief Carlos Noriega said his department was investigating whether on-duty drinking by officers, clearly banned under agency policy, was nevertheless more common than expected.
"It's certainly something we're looking at," Noriega said. "We're going to tighten up our policies and procedures."
In an emailed statement, the Clevelander's management said it "strongly disputes" the lawsuit's allegations.
"At no time during the day in question did Clevelander associates or management serve alcohol to Officer Kuilan," said the statement by Anna Whitlow, the hotel's marketing manager. "We are not able to speak for any other establishments on Ocean Drive that may have served these officers."
Court records did not list an attorney for Kuilan.
Toral said he also planned to sue the City of Miami Beach after a six-month waiting period required by state law. Damages in Florida lawsuits against government entities are generally capped at $100,000 per claimant – it would be $200,000 in this case for Nicanor and her son – but Toral said a higher settlement could be reached.
Investigators say Kuilan's blood-alcohol level was above Florida's 0.08 limit some five hours after the crash occurred. He faces two counts of driving under the influence and two counts of reckless driving, both with bodily injury. Each count is punishable by up to five years in prison if convicted.
The man with Nicanor on the beach that night, 29-year-old Luis Almonte, suffered a broken leg and is no longer hospitalized. He is not part of the lawsuit.
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