The Second District Court of Appeals recently weighed the case brought by the estate of a man killed when his vehicle became impaled by a concrete pole on the back of a concrete truck that was stationary in a construction zone at the time of the crash.
Initially, trial court granted summary judgment in favor of plaintiff, and allowed plaintiff permission to seek punitive damages from defendant subcontractor construction company. However, when the 2nd DCA considered L.E. Myers Co. v. Young, it found trial court had erred, reversed and remanded for retrial.
A jury initially awarded $1.2 million in compensatory damages and $9.8 million in punitive damages, but that was later slashed to a little less than $4 million in damages total by the trial judge. Now, all of that is gone and the estate will once again have to argue the case.
According to court records, the case started with a Manatee County construction project in which defendant was subcontracted by Florida Power & Light to replace a number of power poles along the highway. Defendant was responsible for installing four concrete poles, each weighing about 21,000 pounds, along the roadway. Per the contract, defendant was to ensure the work was completed to FPL standards, and also provide any necessary traffic control.
On the day of the crash, defendant’s workers dug a hole for the new pole and a crane operator was nearby, waiting to install the pole, which arrived a short time later on a flat-bed truck.
The driver of the truck was able to maneuver so that the flatbed was totally on the shoulder, but the left rear tire was resting partially over the painted line on the edge of the road.
Although supervisor testified he planned on initiating traffic control once work began to actually lift the pole out of the flatbed, they hadn’t gotten to that point when the crash occurred.
It’s disputed whether warning signs or cones were placed in advance of the construction zone. Supervisor says there were warning signs posted and cones on the road, and there is some evidence to support that assertion, but plaintiffs deny it.
It was at this time decedent was driving just ahead of the construction zone, when he stopped to make a left turn. As he waited for traffic to clear, a driver came tearing down the road behind him at 91 mph in a 40 mph zone. Without braking, the driver slammed into the victim, propelling him forward, spinning him around and slamming him into the edge of the concrete pole on the back of the truck. The victim’s vehicle became impaled with him inside.
He suffered severe injuries as a result of the truck accident, and he died two years later.
His estate sued the other driver, FPL, the subcontractor, the owner of the flatbed truck and the driver of the truck. By the time of trial, all defendants except the subcontractor had been dismissed or settled with the estate.
Plaintiff argued for summary judgment and punitive damages on grounds defendant failed to have a traffic plan in place at the time of the accident, that this was a willful violation of Department of Transportation rules regarding roadside construction and that it attempted to cover up its negligence.
In its reversal opinion, the 2nd DCA noted that the question of whether defendant was engaged in an inherently dangerous activity at the time of the crash was not a matter of law to be decided before trial by a judge, but rather one of fact that should have been decided by a jury.
Further, on the issue of punitive damages, the appellate court found no evidence the conduct of subcontractor was flagrant or grossly negligent or showed a reckless disregard for human life. While there is a reasonable argument to be made about whether traffic controls were adequate, there was simply not enough to suggest punitive damages would be appropriate.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
L.E. Myers Co. v. Young, Feb. 27, 2015, Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal
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Hilyer v. Fortier – Default Judgment in Car Accident Lawsuit Set Aside, March 3, 2015, Fort Myers Truck Accident Lawyer Blog