A Senate claim bill filed Thursday seeks $1,092,040 for the family of a gasoline truck driver who died after his tanker jackknifed and exploded near a Jacksonville bridge. In August 2000, Christian Darby Stephenson, 29, drove the truck on the Hart Bridge Expressway when a Jeep hydroplaned after hitting a large puddle of standing water.
Stephenson swerved to avoid hitting the Jeep and two other vehicles already involved in accidents. As he attempted to exit onto a nearby road, the tanker jackknifed, run into a guardrail, overturned and exploded.
SB 70, filed by Sen. Anitere Flores, says Stephenson’s family filed a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Transportation, the agency responsible for maintaining drains on the expressway. In 2005, a jury found the department partially at fault, entering judgment for $1,292,040. Sovereign-immunity laws limit the amounts a state agency can pay to only $200,000, without Legislature approval of a “claim” bill for a higher amount.
If approved during the next legislative session, Flores’ bill would have the state pay the remaining $1,092,040 to Stephenson’s widow, Amie Draiemann Stephenson, and her two children.