2017 Top Verdicts and Settlements

The Trial Lawyer’s listing of the top verdicts and settlements by members of The National Trial Lawyers for 2017 includes the acquittal of former NFL star Aaron Hernadez and a Johnson & Johnson talc case award of $417 million. Our list of the top verdicts and settlements for the previous year is available by clicking the link below.

2017 Top Verdicts and Settlements

 

 

2 NTL members settle tractor-trailer case for $45 million

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.

 

 

2 NTL members named to SuperLawyers and Rising Stars

The personal injury law firm of Hupy and Abraham is proud to announce that National Trial Lawyers members Jason Abraham and Robert Domol have been named to the 2017 list of Wisconsin Super Lawyers and Rising Stars. The Super Lawyers list provides visibility to attorneys who exhibit excellence in the practice of law.

Attorney Abraham joined Hupy and Abraham, S.C. in 1993 and was named shareholder in 1999. Shortly after, the firm’s name was changed to Hupy and Abraham. Attorney Abraham’s extraordinary talents handling personal injury cases have resulted in him obtaining approximately $350 million by settlement or trial.
Attorney Domol, who serves clients in Appleton, Wisconsin, joined Hupy and Abraham in 2014. Since then, he has been dedicated to providing the best service and results to each and every one of his clients.

Best Lawyers® recently announced the 2018 “Best Law Firms” ranking Swope, Rodante P. A. as a Tier 1 (the highest ranking possible) firm for its personal injury litigation – plaintiffs and insurance law practices in the Tampa Bay area.

The firm has been included in the annual U.S. News – Best Lawyers® Best Law Firms report since the first edition in 2010. To be eligible for a practice area, law firms must have at least one attorney recognized by Best Lawyers® in that same practice area and region. Swope, Rodante P. A. partners and National Trial Lawyers members Dale Swope, Brandon Cathey, Angela Rodante and Stephanie Miles were all recognized by The Best Lawyers in America© this year as well.

Lightfoot, Franklin & White LLC of counsel and National Black Lawyers member Elizabeth H. Huntley has been named a 2017 “Women Who Shape the State” honoree by This is Alabama.

Huntley was recognized at the third annual Women Who Shape the State Awards Luncheon in Birmingham on November 9. She is also featured on AL.com and will be listed in the November issue of Birmingham Magazine.

The annual “Women Who Shape the State” program recognizes women in different industries from across Alabama who are contributing to their communities and setting an example by their efforts. Out of dozens of nominations, only 30 women were chosen for this year’s class.

2 NTL members settle tragic fatal crash lawsuit

National Trial Lawyer Diplomat and Executive Committee Member Gabriel F. Zambrano, and National Trial Lawyer Member David J. Zappitell, of Zappitell Law Firm of Delray Beach, FL, prepared for trial a catastrophic tractor trailer versus motor vehicle crash that resulted in the deaths of three minor children. The Spanish-speaking surviving father retained Gabriel F. Zambrano to investigate and prosecute the case under Florida’s Wrongful Death statute as Personal Representative of their Estates.

In the dark, pre-dawn hours of March 17, 2015, a mother of three children and her fiancée were driving on Florida’s U.S. 27 in rural Palm Beach County, Florida. A 45-foot-long sugar cane trailer had decoupled, or unhitched, from a tractor trailer and was blocking the southbound lanes of travel on U.S. 27. Having disengaged, and being without power, it had no operational lights. Federally required conspicuity tape was obscured, missing, covered in dirt or mud from sugar cane fields where it was regularly utilized. The operator of the tractor trailer had not yet returned to the disabled sugar cane trailer when the five occupants of the southbound vehicle encountered the disabled obstacle at highway speed. Without operational lights or power, and with retroreflective tape obscured, they violently crashed into the abandoned trailer.

Following their collision, a sole daily commuter who was attempting to overtake them in an adjacent lane also encountered the disabled trailer resulting in a violent crash and extensive damage to his Ford F-150 pick-up truck. He exited his vehicle to witness an unloaded 18-wheeler coming at highway speed toward the sugar cane trailer. The professional driver attempted evasive measures to avoid impacting the trailer and came to rest after striking the disabled Ford. The parties disputed the role of this tractor trailer in the aftermath of the original impact.

Tragically, the mother, age 39, and her three children, ages 14, 16 and 17 were pronounced dead on the scene. The passenger was catastrophically injured and transported via helicopter to a regional trauma center in Delray Beach, FL. The children were survived by their biological father who brought claims under Florida’s Wrongful Death Statute. The mother and catastrophically injured passenger were represented by separate counsel and the cases were consolidated for discovery purposes.

Plaintiff contended that the sugar cane trailer was not properly maintained by the owner, Okeelanta Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Florida Crystals Corporation. These allegations included a failure to comply with applicable Federal Motor Carrier Regulations imposed upon owners and operators as adopted under Florida law. Plaintiff also alleged that the tractor trailer operator was not sufficiently qualified or experienced to haul a commercial trailer which combined with poor maintenance and safety procedures in the resulting decoupling. Plaintiff also alleged the owner and employee operator of the unloaded 18-wheeler, a Brown Trucking Company rig from Lithonia, Georgia, was negligent in their operation of the tractor trailer on the morning of the violent crash.

The plaintiff claimed and discovery revealed sufficient evidence to grant a claim for punitive damages against the sugar cane trailer owner. The parties settled for an undisclosed amount days before a scheduled punitive damage proffer in which the court could have ruled on the plaintiff’s motion to amend the complaint to plead punitive damages.

NTL member Angela Rodante named 2018 Litigation – Insurance Lawyer of the Year in Tampa

TAMPA, FL – Our firm is incredibly proud to share that Angela Rodante, one of Swope, Rodante’s founding partners, has been recognized by The Best Lawyers in America as the 2018 Litigation – Insurance “Lawyer of the Year” award winner in Tampa, FL.

Recognition by Best Lawyers is based entirely on peer review. Best Lawyers employs a sophisticated, conscientious, rational, and transparent survey process designed to elicit meaningful and substantive evaluations of the quality of legal services. To be named a “Lawyer of the Year,” an individual must receive the highest overall peer-feedback for a specific area and geographic region. Only one attorney is recognized as the “Lawyer of the Year” for each specialty and location. Additionally, this is Ms. Rodante’s fifth consecutive year being included in The Best Lawyers in America.

The publication is highly regarded in the legal industry and depends on rigorous peer reviews from over four million top attorneys in the nation. Earning the recognition is a true testament to an attorney’s hard work and dedication to having a profound impact on the justice system.

Ms. Rodante became partner in 2003, but has been practicing law since 1996. She routinely represents clients who have been injured or wronged by insurance companies. Through her years in practice, she has been able to become a well-known expert in the field of insurance bad faith and catastrophic injuries. “Representing plaintiffs in insurance litigation isn’t just about standing up for families against large corporations, it’s about standing up for what is right.” Ms. Rodante commented about representing her clients.

Raising the Bar, Fall 2017

Hupy and Abraham, S.C., personal injury law firm, announced that firm president and National Trial Lawyers member Michael Hupy has developed a unique long-term fellowship involving Marquette University Law School students. The five-year commitment will support students in the Public Interest Law Society (PILS) and will act as an important resource for the continuity of the fellowship program.

PILS is a student-run organization committed to creating opportunities for students intending to dedicate themselves to providing assistance to those who are traditionally underrepresented in the legal system. The Michael F. Hupy Fellowship will allow one student to be placed at the Milwaukee Justice Center (MJC). Additionally, the fellowship enables students to contribute an entire summer to public interest legal work in local and global communities.

The Milwaukee Justice Center strives to provide legal aid for persons who do not qualify for government-issued services and cannot afford an attorney. The center is a combined partnership between the Milwaukee Bar Association, Marquette University Law School and Milwaukee County.

A principal benefactor of the MJC, Attorney Michael Hupy has said, “The legal profession exists for the benefit of the public. I am very proud of the contributions of the Milwaukee Justice Center volunteers who provide legal services to those who would otherwise not have access to it and am happy to be able to help. I am proud to support these students dedicated to working for the common good.”

Hupy and Abraham, S.C. also partners with several other legal nonprofits that work to provide free and/or low-cost services to those in need.

National Trial Lawyers member Brian G. Miller of Brian G. Miller Co., LPA in Columbus, Ohio recently won a $34 million verdict in a lawsuit with energy provider FirstEnergy, et al. On June 29, a jury in the Union County Court of Common Pleas found in favor of Miller’s client, Lisa Jones, who sued the utility over its response to a downed power line. The jury found that the defendant electric companies fell below the ordinary standard of care with respect to their response to an emergency situation on July 13, 2012 involving their downed electrical line. As a result, transfer of the injured plaintiff to a hospital was delayed and necessary surgery was also delayed. Because of the delay, the Ms. Jones’ heart stopped and the flow of blood and oxygen to her brain also stopped. As a result, she suffered an anoxic brain injury and has been left in a permanently disabled state unable to care for herself or her child. Plaintiff has approximately $9.7M worth of future care according to her life care plan, necessitated by her condition and she has suffered an income loss of approximately $3.6M. The jury also awarded $20M in noneconomic damages and $1M toward a consortium claim for Ms. Jones’ young child. The total verdict came to $34,317,636.00, and Judge David C. Faulkner presided over the trial.

Have you recently made a notable achievement either inside or outside of the courtroom that you’d like to share with your fellow National Trial Lawyers members? If so, please send it to us at Editor@TheNTL.org or you can submit it through The Trial Lawyer magazine website at this address: https://www.thetriallawyermagazine.com/contact-us/

Florida Jury Awards $3.22 Million for Interrupted Cancer Treatments In Addition to Injuries Caused by Tractor Crash

In a two-week trial conducted by National Trial Lawyers member Brian Denney and attorney Ed Ricci, a Palm Beach County jury awarded security guard Barry Davis $3,220,000 for damages incurred when his vehicle was struck by a tractor towing a grass mower. The verdict was based not only on Davis’s immediate injuries from the crash, but on his consequent inability to continue timely cancer treatments.

Tractor driver Dale Vannelli was hauling a large, heavy commercial grass mower called a bushhog when he hit Davis’s Ford Mustang on the driver’s side as Davis neared an intersection. Davis, who has been traveling 76 miles an hour in a 50 miles per hour zone, was airlifted to a nearby hospital, suffering a left hemopneumothorax, which required a thoracostomy; a splenic rupture, which required exploratory laparotomy and splenectomy; fractures of his left clavicle; and multiple rib, lumbar, and other injuries. He was hospitalized for 22 agonizing days of surgeries, therapy and rehabilitation.

Prior to the December 4, 2013 crash, Davis had been undergoing radiation treatment for a squamous cell carcinoma on his left cheek/jaw area, and the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes. For two months after the accident, due to his extensive injuries, he could not undergo critical cancer treatments. Less than two years later, doctors found that the squamous cell carcinoma had returned to Davis’s cheek and had already metastasized to the parotid gland. This diagnosis resulted in extensive surgery to remove the tumor, massive skin grafts from his right arm to repair surgical areas, and additional chemotherapy and radiation.

Because the crash with Vannelli had adversely affected his ability to treat his cancer successfully, Davis asked Board Certified attorney Brian Denney of Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley to represent him in a legal action to hold the tractor driver and his employer, South Florida Bushhog Service, Inc., accountable for the damages.
“There was no question that the tractor crash was the catalyst for a one-two punch that resulted in life-threatening injuries and unimaginable suffering for Mr. Davis,” said Denney. “When the defendants refused to accept responsibility, we were forced to take the case to court.”

Defendants maintained that Davis was solely liable for the crash because he was exceeding the speed limit, and that Davis’s recurrent cancer was not related to the interruption of treatment caused by the accident. They argued that, since Davis had a history of other superficial skin cancers, the recurren
ce on his left cheek would have occurred regardless of the crash. They also argued that Davis should not have been driving because he had received cancer treatments the day of the accident.
However, in the course of a two-week trial, the Searcy Denney attorneys disputed defense attorneys’ allegations with the sworn statements of a treating oncologist, who testified that the cancer recurrence was caused by the lapse in Davis’s treatments. The jury agreed.

Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley is a Florida-based trial law firm with more than 40 years’ experience handling personal injury cases. The firm has been named by U.S. News – Best Lawyers® “Best Law Firms” as a 2017 First Tier “Best Law Firm” in West Palm Beach for six practice areas and in Tallahassee for two practice areas.

Have you recently made a notable achievement either inside or outside of the courtroom that you’d like to share with your fellow National Trial Lawyers members? If so, please send it to us at Editor@TheNTL.org or you can submit it through The Trial Lawyer magazine website at this address: https://www.thetriallawyermagazine.com/contact-us/

Attorney Michael T. van der Veen Selected to 2017 Pennsylvania Super Lawyers List

Philadelphia, PA. We are pleased to announce that National Trial Lawyers member Michael T. van der Veen has been selected to the 2017 Pennsylvania Super Lawyers list. Each year, no more than five percent of the lawyers in the state are selected by the research team at Super Lawyers to receive this honor. It is his 13th year to be so named to this prestigious list. Francis O’Neill, Jr. has been selected to the 2017 Rising Stars list for the third year in a row. Each year, no more than 2.5 percent of the lawyers in the state are selected by the research team at Super Lawyers to receive this honor.

Super Lawyers, a Thomson Reuters business, is a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The annual selections are made using a patented multiphase process that includes a statewide survey of lawyers, an independent research evaluation of candidates and peer reviews by practice area. The result is a credible, comprehensive and diverse listing of exceptional attorneys.

The founder of the Law Offices of Michael T. van der Veen, Michael T. van der Veen represents the rights of people in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and its surrounding towns and counties. He focuses his practice on plaintiff’s personal injury, and criminal defense, and handles cases involving auto, motorcycle and truck accidents, construction accidents, slip and falls, medical errors, product liability, murder, sex offenses, white collar crimes, assault, drug offenses, DUI, and vehicular homicide.

Have you recently made a notable achievement either inside or outside of the courtroom that you’d like to share with your fellow National Trial Lawyers members? If so, please send it to us at Editor@TheNTL.org or you can submit it through The Trial Lawyer magazine website at this address: https://www.thetriallawyermagazine.com/contact-us/

Please submit your article to The Trial Lawyer

The National Trial Lawyers would like to invite you to contribute articles about criminal defense for The Trial Lawyer magazine. Do you have criminal defense expertise that you’d like to share with your fellow members? Please write an article about your experience or on a criminal defense-related subject and send it to us. E-mail it to us at editor@thentl.org.

Also, do you have a unique hobby, pastime or collection that you’d like to share with your fellow National Trial Lawyer members? We have a new feature in The Trial Lawyer magazine called “Outside the Courtroom” about what our members do when they’re not in the courtroom or in an office. If you’ve got an interesting, fun or unusual talent, please contact us at editor@thentl.org and you could be featured in an upcoming issue of The Trial Lawyer.

Your submission could be included in The Trial Lawyer magazine, in our newsletters or on our blogs. Please note that all submissions become property of Legal Associations Management, and we do not guarantee publication of all submissions. Also, there is no compensation for submissions. If you’ve got an article, or would like to write an article to submit, please e-mail a copy to editor@thentl.org.

Get involved, and submit your article today!

Strutt secures $20M settlement for brain injured worker

National Trial Lawyers member Barry Strutt secured a $20 million settlement in January for a 19-year-old worker who suffered a severe traumatic brain injury following a trial that lasted six days. Strutt, a partner in Keegan, Keegan & Strutt in White Plains, NY, announced the settlement for Paulo Suarez, who sued Harrison & Burrowes Bridge Constructors, Inc. and PCI Industries Corp for a violation of New York labor law. The lawsuit arose from injuries Suarez sustained in July 2011 while working on a bridge rehabilitation project that involved the replacement of steel bearing plates on an Interstate 287 overpass in Rye, NY.

According to court documents, Suarez’s co-workers improvised a method of lifting the steel bearing plates up a steep slope using a garden cart and a truck. A carpenter for the contractor had threaded a nylon rope through a “come-along” hook – a ratcheting pulling device with hooks on both ends—and attaching the rope to the handle of the cart on one end and to the bumper of the truck at the other end. The rope was wrapped around a concrete pole at the bottom of the slope before it was attached to the truck so that as the truck moved parallel to the slope, the cart was raised “up the slope.” The come-a-long “snapped” during a “hoisting” or “lifting” operation, striking Suarez–who was shepherding the cart up the slope—in the head, rendering him unconscious and causing him to roll down the slope.

Suarez suffered severe traumatic brain injuries (TBI), requiring the appointment of a guardian, his father, Roberto Suarez. As a result of the TBI, Paulo Suarez had no memory of the accident. Suarez remained in an induced coma for about a month following the incident. After being discharged following a five-month stay at two hospitals and undergoing rehabilitation therapy, the younger Suarez was hospitalized twice for depression in 2016. As a result of his workplace injury Suarez claimed that he suffered respiratory failure; a coma; a severe traumatic brain injury with subarachnoid hemorrhage and a diffuse axonal injury; all of which resulted in residual, permanent cognitive, memory, and behavioral (psychological and psychiatric) impairments, including but not limited to an adjustment disorder and bi-polar mood disorder, with manic and psychotic features secondary to traumatic brain injury and exacerbated by the side effects of necessary mood stabilizing medications, left-sided weakness and generalized slowing; ventilator associated pneumonia; dysphagia; multi-facial trauma including a comminuted right mastoid fracture; a right mandible fracture with right parasymphyseal fracture requiring jaw wiring; a resultant right facial droop and facial deformity; an avulsion fracture which nearly took off his ear; a temporal bone fracture; Achilles lengthening procedure; spastic right hemiparesis; spasticity of the right upper and lower extremities; a permanent, resultant right hemiparetic gait; botox injections for spasticity; persistent and often incapacitating tremors of the upper and lower extremities, and a urinary tract infection. Because of his permanent disability, Suarez will require care and treatment throughout his life expectancy of more than 50 years.

Suarez had initially sued the state of New York in the Court of Claims based upon the State’s ownership of the property where the accident occurred, and sued the general contractor and subcontractor shortly after that in the Westchester State Supreme Court. Further, because case law determined that while Suarez could obtain more than one verdict (but only one satisfaction), he would necessarily be required to accept the lower of the two potential verdicts, it was in Paulo Suarez’s best interest to take a damage verdict in the Court of Claims and dismiss a direct action in Westchester Supreme Court.

In August 2016, Suarez sought permission from the Guardianship Part to discontinue the Supreme Court action against all the direct defendants (Harrison & Burrowes and PCI, Industries) with prejudice in the Westchester Supreme Court action and take a damage verdict in the Court of Claims, noting that a decision on damages from the Court of Claims could be entered as early as October or November 2016.

In March 2016, the defendants proposed a mediation involving off of the parties in both the Supreme Court and Court of Claims actions. Suarez’s attorneys reduced their initial demand of $22 million to $18 million after two days of mediations. The defendants offered $9.5 million, which was rejected. A trial then began in the Court of Claims on July 25 and ended on August 8, 2016. At the close of trial, the Court of Claims asked for written summations due 30 days after receiving a copy of the court transcript. The defendant State and claimant submitted their written summations on October 25, 2016. Shortly thereafter, defendants collectively asked for a global “settlement” conference before the judge in the settlement part after the pending Supreme Court case had been set for trial on or about January 31, 2017. Plaintiff-claimant indicated at the settlement conference that the demand was now $22 million pursuant to the terms set forth in the previous letter. The presiding judge of the Settlement Part recommended $20 million dollars and several other conferences were held.

On November 3, 2016, a provisional settlement was put on the record indicating that a global settlement had been reached and that it would, by its terms, pay plaintiff-claimant $20 million pursuant to a set time table. That global settlement was contingent upon final approval by the Guardianship Part, which occurred on January 12, 2017. (There was a very substantial Workers’ Compensation Lien at play. The terms of the final settlement, however, including the names of the insurance companies and the apportionment of payments by the parties and insurance companies are strictly confidential.)