After a four-week trial, a Broward County, Florida, jury returned a $45 million verdict against a construction company whose truck driver caused a multiple-vehicle crash that killed a 29-year-old medical student.
Ranger Construction Industries, Inc. had a contract with the state of Florida for construction along Interstate 75, most of which was in the highway median. One of its truck drivers, Juan C. Calero, attempted to make a U-turn in Pembroke Pines, FL, crossing all four southbound lanes of I-75 into oncoming traffic at 11:35 pm on May 28, 2015.
Plaintiff Raymond Astaphan's car struck the trailer, shearing off this roof and killing him on impact. Patrissia Rolle, 26, a doctor, was a passenger in his vehicle and she suffered multiple orthopedic injuries and a brain injury. A 17-year old woman in another care was also killed, and an 18-wheel tractor-trailer also collided with the construction truck.
The plaintiff argued that the only safe way off of the I-75 median construction site that night was with a lane closure, proper supervision, lighting, and the assistance of Florida Highway Patrol. Instead, Ranger Construction and its supervisor left truck driver Calero unsupervised in an area he had never been to before, in complete darkness. Ranger loaded up the flatbed tractor-trailer with an 80,000-pound load of concrete barrier wall and instructed Calero to drive about one mile south, to the Miramar Parkway Bridge, for unloading.
Based on e-mails uncovered by the plaintiff's legal team, Ranger Construction supervisors and managers simply blamed the truck drivers and the motoring public for the problems construction vehicles were having entering and exiting the medians. Ranger Construction allegedly did nothing to fix the danger it was imposing on the roadways.
At trial, the plaintiff argued that Ranger Construction Industries, Inc. not only put lives at risk of harm and death, but also violated the terms of its contract with the Florida Department of Transportation requiring it to give construction vehicles a safe means of exiting median construction sites on I-75.
The jury found Ranger Construction Industries, Inc. violated its contract with the FDOT and found Ranger Construction Industries, Inc. negligent in causing the death of Raymond Astaphan.
The jury found the defendants responsible and entered a $20 million verdict for compensatory damages. The jury also awarded punitive damages of $25 million against Ranger Construction Industries, Inc. and $5,000 against the truck driver. The jury also found that Calero was Ranger Construction Industries, Inc.'s agent and that Ranger Construction Industries, Inc. was engaged in an inherently dangerous activity. The jury apportioned fault equally between the two defendants. The entire verdict was for $45,005,000.
"This case is a reminder of how powerful and important our third branch of government is for enforcing safety and protecting everyone from harm," said Stuart Ratzan, lead trial counsel for the plaintiff. "Through its verdict, the jury, a cross-section of our community, with humility, discipline, and order understood that highway construction companies must follow the rules, not just in Broward County, but all over the country," Ratzan said.
Raymond Astaphan is survived by his parents, Jennifer and Reginald. "They are heroes…heroes for our community and for us all," said Ratzan and Weissman.
The Plaintiff was represented by Stuart N. Ratzan, Stuart J. Weissman, and Evan Gilead of Ratzan Law Group, P.A., Miami, Florida. Ratzan Law Group was assisted by Lincoln Connolly of Lincoln J. Connolly Trials & Appeals, P.A.