Friday, January 16, 2009

Settlement to cost state $10.4-million

By Steve Bousquet, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau Published Thursday, January 15, 2009
TALLAHASSEE — Facing a $3.5-billion deficit next year, Florida desperately needs all the money it can get. But millions more will disappear because the state has settled a lawsuit that affects millions of motorists.
The Legislature will spend $10.4-million to settle a class action lawsuit over allegations that the state illegally sold drivers' personal information to marketing firms over a four-year period in violation of a federal law barring the practice. The state made $27-million each year on the deal, according to the lawsuit.
The settlement to drivers?
Drivers who held a license, car registration or state-issued ID from June 1, 2000, through Sept. 30, 2004, will get a one-time credit of $1 when they register or renew a registration between July 1, 2009, and June 30, 2010.
"Just one dollar?" Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, asked in a committee hearing on the settlement.
The four South Florida motorists who sued will get $3,000 each, and five law firms that pursued the case for more than six years will divide $2.85-million in legal fees, which is separate from credits paid to consumers.
Gov. Charlie Crist and the Cabinet approved the agreement in August, but the Legislature has to appropriate the money. The Senate Transportation Committee was briefed on the settlement Wednesday.
The personal information that was sold includes a driver's photo, Social Security number, driver ID number, name, address, phone number and medical condition.
The preliminary settlement requires the state motor vehicle agency to post on its Web site a system to obtain names of the mass marketers that bought the personal information, as well as a reference on license and registration forms on state and federal disclosure laws.
The state formally denied any wrongdoing.
"No one's hurt, no one's injured, and we're paying $10-million?" asked Sen. Larcenia Bullard, D-Miami.
"It's $10-million or the potential is in the billions," replied Steven Fielder, a lobbyist for the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
The state's maximum liability was estimated at $39-million, based on a $2,500 penalty for each violation of the federal Drivers Privacy Protection Act.
Congress in 1999 amended the law to prohibit states from providing drivers' personal information unless the state had drivers' permission to do so.
But Florida, the lawsuit alleged, continued to market the data anyway. The Legislature passed a law in 2004 ending the practice.
Anyone affected by the settlement has until March 16 to file an objection with the court in Miami. The case is before U.S. District Judge Jose Martinez
Sen. Carey Baker, R-Eustis, said it looks to him as though consumers should have gotten more.
"The victim really doesn't benefit very much, and the attorneys make out on attorneys' fees."

Yours in the Bond

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Soldier dies after bar fight over Jimmy Buffett song in Steamboat

A soldier from Fort Bragg died this morning in Denver from injuries suffered from a bar fight in Steamboat Springs on Friday night over a Jimmy Buffett song.
Richard Lopez, 37, of Fayetteville, N.C., was pronounced dead at 4:16 a.m. today at Denver Health Medical Center. An autopsy by the Arapahoe County Coroner's office is scheduled for Tuesday.
"This is a very sad and serious case," said Capt. Joel Rae with Steamboat Springs police.
So far, no suspects have been arrested, although police have talked to two individuals involved in the fight.
"We know where they are and they have been interviewed," said Rae.
The case is being investigated as a homicide.
The incident occurred before 12:15 a.m. Friday when police were called to a fight between five people outside the Tap House.
"The initial disagreement was about music being played on the jukebox," said Rae, adding that it was a Jimmy Buffet song.
"Richard Lopez and two other individuals put on the song, but two other individuals did not agree with it."
It was not known which Jimmy Buffett song was being played at the time, but the fight was taken outside the bar.
By the time officers arrived on scene, the fight was over and Lopez was on the ground at Lincoln Avenue and Seventh Street.
Two of Lopez's friends, who were not identified by police but are from Steamboat Springs, were also injured in the fight.
Lopez was initially taken to Yampa Valley Medical Center, but later airlifted to Denver Health Medical Center.
Lopez's friends, identified by the Steamboat Pilot as Timothy Mottlau of Norfolk, Va., and Wesley Mottlau, of Fayetteville, N.C., were taken to the hospital with cuts and bruises.
Calls to the Mottlau's home in Steamboat Springs were not returned today.
Rae said that all three were on leave from the military - Lopez and one of his friends were with the Army, while the other friend was in the Navy.
A call to Fort Bragg indicated that Lopez was part of a special forces unit. More details were not available about his service.
Rae said the case is still under investigation.
"Somebody died," he said. "We're taking this very seriously."
While he said barfights were not uncommon in the town, it was unusual that a person died in a fight not involving any weapons.
"This is the first time that a physical fight has resulted in a loss of life from the use of hands and fists," he said.
"It's a shame that it had to happen."

Sad State of Affairs....WWJBD...

Yours in the Bond