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ARTICLE ID 42684

$________ GROSS - FAILURE BY D.O.T. TO MAINTAIN STORM DRAIN - PASSENGER VEHICLE HITS STANDING WATER - GASOLINE TANKER STRIKES EXIT RAMP IN ATTEMPT TO AVOID PASSENGER VEHICLE - ROLLOVER AND EXPLOSION - WRONGFUL DEATH OF 29-YEAR-OLD TRUCK DRIVER.

Duval County, Florida

The male decedent was a 29-year-old truck driver when the gasoline tanker he was driving crashed into a Jacksonville exit ramp resulting in his death. The plaintiff claimed that the accident stemmed from the defendant Florida Department of Transportation’s ("FDOT") failure to maintain the storm drains in the area. The plaintiff alleged that as a result, the road flooded causing a vehicle in front of the decedent’s tanker truck to hit the standing water. The plaintiff claimed that the decedent was forced to veer to the right and crash the truck into on off-ramp to avoid injuring others at the scene. The driver of the passenger vehicle was not a defendant at the time of trial. The defendant DOT maintained that the decedent truck driver caused the collision by traveling at an excessive speed, following too closely and losing control of the truck. The defense also denied notice that the storm drain was clogged in the area of the accident.

The decedent was driving a loaded gasoline tanker truck on August 12, ________, near the Hart Bridge leaving downtown Jacksonville. Evidence showed it was raining heavily just before the accident. The plaintiff contended that a passenger vehicle driven by Jason Keiffer was traveling in front of the tanker truck. The plaintiff contended that the Keiffer vehicle hit standing water on the flooded road surface, forcing the tanker truck to take evasive action.

Keiffer testified that he was unaware that the tanker truck was traveling behind him. He testified that he saw standing water on the road at the last minute and started pumping his brakes. Keiffer testified he came out of the water and moved into the right lane when he saw the truck moving up along his right side.

The plaintiff claimed that the flooded road surface stemmed from the defendant FDOT’s lack of adequate maintenance of the storm drains in this area of the highway. The plaintiff contended that the decedent was unable to use the right emergency lane due to a prior accident which blocked that lane. The plaintiff contended that to avoid striking the vehicles stopped in the emergency lane, the decedent swerved towards the exit ramp to Atlantic Boulevard. The gasoline tanker was unable to make the sharp turn and it collided with the guardrail. The tanker truck rolled over and exploded into a 50-foot fireball that resulted in the decedent’s death at the scene.

The plaintiff’s accident reconstruction expert placed the truck’s speed at approximately 54 mph in a 45 mph zone. This expert testified that the truck was traveling approximately ________ feet behind the Keiffer vehicle, which was an acceptable following distance.

The decedent was survived by his wife who was eight months pregnant at the time as well as a two-year-old daughter. The plaintiff called two psychologists who testified that the 3\ 3 decedent’s wife has undergone approximately a year of counseling. The plaintiff also argued that the decedent’s children will have psychological difficulties and issues stemming from their father’s death for many years into the future. The plaintiff’s economist estimated the plaintiff’s economic damages as $2 million to $2.5 million.

The defendant’s accident reconstruction experts testified that the tanker truck was exceeding the speed limit and following too closely behind the Keiffer vehicle. The defendant’s expert placed the truck’s speed at approximately 60 mph in a 45 mph zone as it was coming down the hill off the bridge. Evidence showed that the truck was fully loaded with gasoline and weighted approximately ________ pounds.

The defendant stressed that the decedent’s wife was planning to be married to another man in October, ________ and had given birth to this man’s baby. The defense argued that she was moving on with her life. The defendant’s economist estimated the plaintiff’s economic damages as approximately $1 million.

After a seven-day trial, the jury found the defendant Florida Department of Transportation 36% negligent and the decedent 64% comparatively negligent. The plaintiff was awarded $3.6 million in damages which was reduced accordingly. The plaintiff has filed an appeal challenging the comparative negligence finding.

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