Florida’s 2nd District Court of Appeal reversed a $4.8 million judgment favoring the estate of a man who died as a result of injuries sustained in a horrific crash at a roadway construction site several years ago.
In L.E. Myers Co. v. Young, the appellate court ruled summary judgment favoring plaintiff on certain issues was improper and further, trial court should not have allowed plaintiff to seek punitive damages.
Essentially, the appellate court held there were genuine issues of material fact that remained in dispute that should have precluded summary judgment on certain allegations and further, plaintiff hadn’t met the high burden of proof necessary to show gross negligence warranting punitive damages. (Punitive damages are those intended to punish defendant, as opposed to compensatory damages, intended to compensate plaintiff for economic and personal losses.)
According to court records, defendant company was a subcontractor for Florida Power & Light. The terms of that contract indicated subcontractor assumed all liability resulting from project.
In the course of the work, a trailer driven by a subcontractor of defendant arrived with large, steel poles, which were intended for implantation into the ground. The driver of the trailer positioned the trailer so that a nearby crane could hoist those poles and put them into nearby holes. While most of the trailer was parked on the shoulder, the left rear tire was over the white line. However, defendant insisted it was not an impediment to traffic. The poles, which extended beyond the rear of the trailer, were entirely on the shoulder and not impeding the roadway.
Although this point was disputed by plaintiff, a supervisor for defendant asserted he placed a traffic cone and warning sign on one side of the road indicating construction work ahead. He intended to stop traffic flow completely when the poles were being relocated by the crane, but hadn’t yet reached that point.
Meanwhile, a driver approached the site. He slowed to a stop to make a left turn into a shopping center, and was waiting for traffic to clear when another driver traveling in the same direction came up behind him. Driver 2 was traveling more than 90 mph in a 40 mph zone. Without braking, Drive 2 slammed into the back of victim’s car, propelling his vehicle forward and slamming it into the end of a concrete pole, which was still atop the trailer bed. Victim was trapped inside, and was severely injured. He ultimately died of those injuries two years later.
Plaintiff was representative for his estate. Litigation was filed against Driver 2, FPL, defendant subcontractor and others for alleged negligence. Subcontractor defendant raised a number of affirmative defenses indicating it was entitled to set-offs for comparative fault for negligence of third parties under its control and not under its control.
Estate filed a motion for summary judgments on these points, and trial court granted them. The court found defendant was engaged in an inherently dangerous activity, and so was fully liable for any negligence of subcontractors. The court also allowed for punitive damages, asserting the negligence was gross because of defendant’s failure to have a traffic plan at the construction site.
Defendant did concede the traffic plan would not have adhered to state statute, but argued the site wasn’t inherently dangerous and the supervisor had intended to stop traffic both ways when it got to that point (when the poles were being removed).
Ultimately, jury returned a verdict of $1.2 million in compensatory damages and $9.8 million in punitive damages, though the later was later reduced to $3.6 million.
Defendant subcontractor appealed that final judgment and it was reversed.
The court indicated that because genuine issues of material fact were in dispute, summary judgment was not appropriate in this case and neither was the grant of permission to pursue punitive damages.
The case was thus remanded for another trial.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
L.E. Myers Co. v. Young, Feb. 27, 2015, Florida Second District Court of Appeal
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