A Florida jury has found Tarmac America, a company that sold metal plates, liable for $1.7 million for an accident in which one of the plates fell off a truck, hit a car and killed a passenger. The company was held liable in a wrongful death suit even though it didn’t own the truck, which was never identified. Police investigated the accident, but closed the case without finding the truck or determining who manufactured the metal plates. The plaintiff’s lawyer, Marc Wites of Wites & Kapetan in Lighthouse Point, Florida, conducted his own investigation and subpoenaed a number of companies to track down the origin of the plates. As you will see, he did a very good job in this case.
At trial, the lawyer relied mainly on a video surveillance tape of various trucks that came through the Defendant’s company that day and revealed how the trucks were loaded. While he never identified the truck that carried the metal plate that killed the Plaintiff, the videos showed the company hadn’t properly packaged the cargo on the trucks. The Defense took the position that it only sold the metal plates and that it was the duty of the trucker to secure the load.
The metal plate at issue was shaped like a 34-pound cookie sheet and was used for making concrete blocks. One of the plates fell off a truck on I-95 in South Palm Beach, went through the windshield of a car and struck the passenger. Claudia Avila, a 43-year-old mother of three, died several weeks later. The plates were so rare that only a few companies used them. The metal plates were placed in two stacks of 50 plates per stack, and were secured to a wooden pallet with metal straps. At trial, it was argued by the Plaintiff’s lawyer that either the plates were not properly secured to the wooden pallet or the straps were not strong enough to secure the stacks. The Plaintiff’s trucking expert testified that the metal strapping was not adequate.
Prior to trial, settlements had been made with the trucking company, EM Transfer, and IGM, the scrap metal company that purchased the metal plates. After an eight-day trial, the jury awarded a total of $6 million and apportioned 28% of the fault to the Defendant – totaling $1.7 million – with the remainder being assessed to the trucking company. Marc Wites’ pretrial strategy was the key to the successful result in the case.
Source: Associated Press
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