It emerged in the trial that the highway construction company had no safe system or plan for getting heavy construction vehicles safely off of its median construction sites and onto the Interstate 75 highway, said Ratzan Law Group, representing the family of one of the two people who died in the accident.
The jury found Ranger Construction Industries, Inc. in violation of its contract with Florida Department of Transportion and also found Ranger Construction Industries, Inc. negligent in causing the death of 29-year-old medical student Raymond Astaphan. The case purely concerned his death, though another car driver also died.
The plaintiff alleged that there had been months of complaints from the motoring public regarding highway construction vehicles interfering and disrupting traffic. There was also an official ‘verbal warning’ on 20 May 2015 from the Florida Department of Transportation. It was alleged that, on 28 May 2015, Ranger Construction Industries left a fully loaded lorry alone in the median of I-75, unsupervised, without any instructions on how to exit the area, at approximately 11:30pm with no lighting. Ranger Construction allegedly provided no safe way to exit the median construction site.
According to the plaintiff, Calero improperly and recklessly exited the median construction work zone. Calero, facing northbound in the median, attempted to make a u-turn crossing all four southbound lanes of I-75 impeding oncoming traffic. While he attempted this manoeuver, Raymond Astaphan's Mitsubishi struck the lorry shearing off his roof and killing him on impact. He had no time to react or avoid the crash. His passenger, Patrissia Rolle, suffered significant injures. Also killed in the wreck was a 17 year old driver of another vehicle, a white BMW.
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.
The jury found the defendants responsible and entered a US$20m verdict for compensatory damages. The jury also found punitive damages were warranted to punish the defendants and entered a punitive damage award of US$25 million against Ranger Construction Industries, Inc. and US$5,000 against the truck driver Juan Calero. The jury also found that Calero was Ranger Construction Industries, Inc.'s agent and that Ranger Construction Industries, Inc. was engaged in inherently dangerous activity. The jury apportioned fault equally between the two defendants. The entire verdict was for US$45,005,000.
The plaintiff was represented by Stuart N Ratzan, Stuart J Weissman, and Evan Gilead of Ratzan Law Group of Miami, Florida. Ratzan Law Group was assisted by Lincoln Connolly of Lincoln J Connolly Trials & Appeals.