Jurors awarded $24 million the husband of a pregnant woman killed when a drunk driver crashed into a pool cabana in front of a hotel in Fort Lauderdale.
The crash happened in 2012 when the couple was attending a marriage retreat. The husband was inside the cabana restroom and sustained minor injuries. But the wife, standing just outside, was directly struck. Both she and her seven-month unborn child died as a result of their injuries.
Vehicle driver had a blood-alcohol level of 0.24 at the time of the crash. She was later convicted of two counts of DUI manslaughter and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Jurors determined she was 85 percent liable for the crash, but also found the hotel was 15 percent liable. It will have to pay $3.6 million, assuming the verdict survives an expected appeal.
An attorney for plaintiff stated the driver had a horrible driving record, but the hotel was aware such drivers existed on the road and could and should have done more to prevent this crash.
Admitted into evidence was a traffic study indicating the cabana at the hotel was located on a sharp curve where drivers routinely travel at 50 mph or more. Several during the study period were even clocked going more than 75 mph.
Hotel workers knew this was a problem. In fact, one worker sent an e-mail to city council prior to the traffic collision, calling that stretch of road “a race track.” The issue had even been discussed by the hotel board at routine safety meetings. And yet, nothing was done to protect the cabana area from the road. Although the hotel couldn’t lower the speed limit, it could have erected a barrier or made that portion of the hotel inaccessible to guests.
Employees even at one point put up a stop sign on a city road. However, this was not a legal course of action.
This was a high-traffic area, and given the danger posed to guests, the jury reasoned, more should have been done to offer protection.
Plaintiff attorney said this was not “your average freak accident.” In fact, evidence presented indicated the hotel workers knew for almost two years before the crash that this was a hazard.
With the majority of the damages apportioned to the imprisoned drunk driver, it’s likely plaintiff will not collect on most of that. However, it will grant him the right to seize whatever assets she has. Further, damages awarded in court due to drunk driving may not be discharged in the course of a bankruptcy. That means she will be paying on this debt the rest of her life, long after she is released from prison.
Our experienced DUI wrongful death lawyers do recognize that while awards like this do not bring back the precious lives lost, they do send a message of accountability.
It’s probable this will spur other hotels and businesses will carefully evaluate their own property for potential hazards, and prompt them to take action to prevent another tragedy.
Our team is committed to fighting for justice.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Jury Awards $24 Million in Fatal Cabana Crash, June 24, 2015, By Keith Jones, NBC 6
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