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Palm Beach County, FL

In this action, the plaintiff contended that the defendant SUV driver, then 17, traveled at an excessive rate of speed and negligently failed to make proper observations. The plaintiff contended that as a result, the defendant struck the decedent’s automobile in the rear with great force as it was stopped behind a line of cars. The plaintiff maintained that this impact caused the decedent’s car to strike the stopped car in front. The plaintiff contended that the front of the decedent’s car traveled under the car in front, and that the forward forces resulted in the cervical fracture that took her life a very short time later.

The defendant had initially been criminally charged with DUI manslaughter. The blood tests were subsequently ruled inadmissible because there was an insufficient appearance of impairment to justify the tests, the attending paramedic and lead homicide investigator indicated that they did not believe that the defendant had appeared impaired at the scene, and the criminal charges were dropped. The jury was not aware of the arrest or the 0.________ test results.

The defendant maintained that the decedent had initially struck the car that was stopped in front of her and that the defendant then struck the decedent’s car. The plaintiff presented eyewitness testimony reflecting that the defendant struck the decedent’s vehicle first. Two of these witnesses testified over objection that the defendant appeared to be "zoned out." One of the witnesses also testified that he inquired of the defendant if she had consumed alcohol, and that the defendant responded by indicating that she was more concerned with the Xanax in her system than any alcohol that was consumed.

The plaintiff asked the defendant during cross-examination if she had been under the influence of any substances. The defendant invoked the Fifth Amendment.

The defendant further contended that the decedent was not wearing her safety belt and that if she had been doing so, she would not have suffered the fracture leading to the death. The decedent was not seen with the belt attached after the collision. The defendant also pointed to the absence of any marks that would reflect that the safety belt detached in the collision. The plaintiff contended that the severe impact caused extensive damage to the rear of the decedent’s car and resulted in the demolition of the rear seats and the front passenger seat. The plaintiff maintained that in view of such extensive property damage, no inference regarding the question of whether the decedent was wearing the safety belt could be made.

The plaintiff contended that the decedent was conscious and choking on her blood for a brief period before losing consciousness. The plaintiff also presented the medical examiner who testified that the cause of death was an unstable cervical fracture. The decedent left three adult children who did not reside at home. The plaintiff contended that the family was very close, that the children spoke on the phone with the decedent frequently, and the loss of guidance and advice was very significant. The plaintiff also stressed that under Florida law, the pain and suffering experienced by the children stemming from the death was compensable.

The evidence disclosed that the decedent had been diagnosed with bilateral Stage IV lung cancer. The defendant maintained that even if the collision had not occurred, it was likely that the decedent would have died within one year. The defendant also contended that it was highly unlikely that the decedent would have survived as long as five years.

The plaintiff contended that the defendant’s position was speculative, especially in view of evidence that the decedent had survived a prior bout of cancer. The plaintiff also argued that the jury should consider that irrespective of this factor, the defendant’s negligence clearly caused a horrific and premature death.

The jury found the defendant 75% negligent, the decedent 25% comparatively negligent and rendered a gross award of $________, including $________ to each of the children.

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