National Trial Lawyers Top 100 member Stuart N. Ratzan, NTL Top 40 Under 40 member Stuart J. Weissman, and attorney Evan Gilean of Ratzan Law Group, P.A. of Miami reached a $45 million settlement in a wrongful death case involving a tractor-trailer.
After a four week trial in Broward County, Florida, it was revealed that a major highway construction company had no safe system or plan for getting heavy construction vehicles safely off of its median construction sites and onto Interstate 75. The plaintiff alleged that, after months of complaints from the motoring public, along with an official “Verbal Warning” on May 20, 2015, from the Florida Department of Transportation regarding highway construction vehicles interfering and disrupting traffic, Ranger Construction Industries, Inc., on May 28, 2015, left a fully loaded, 80,000 pound tractor trailer alone in the median of I-75, unsupervised, without any instructions on how to exit the area, at approximately 11:30 p.m., with no lighting. Ranger Construction allegedly provided the tractor trailer no safe way to exit the median construction site. Based on e-mails uncovered by the plaintiff’s legal team, which proved that rather than acting on the complaints and official FDOT warning, and rather than looking inward to determine how to fix its system and comply with the FDOT contract rules, 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 Ranger to provide construction vehicles a safe means of exiting median construction sites on I-75. Based on the circumstances, including the provisions of its contract, 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 allegedly chose to leave truck driver, Juan C. Calero, unsupervised in an area he had never been to before, in complete darkness. Ranger loaded up the flatbed tractor trailer with a full load of concrete barrier wall and instructed truck driver Calero to drive approximately one mile south, to the Miramar Parkway Bridge, for unloading.
According to the plaintiff, Mr. Calero improperly and recklessly exited the median construction work zone. Mr. Calero, facing northbound in the median, attempted to make a u-turn crossing all four southbound lanes of I-75 impeding oncoming traffic. While Mr. Calero attempted this dangerous maneuver, Raymond Astaphan’s Mitsubishi struck the tractor trailer shearing off his roof and killing him on impact. He had no time to react or avoid the tractor trailer. Raymond was a 29-year-old medical student from the island of Dominica. His passenger, Patrissia Rolle, suffered significant injures. Also killed in the wreck was a 17-year-old driver of another vehicle.