$45M Verdict Animating Liability After Tractor Trailer Decapitates CarStuart Ratzan, Esq., and Stuart Weissman, Esq., Ratzan Law Group, Miami, FL
Two young lives came to an abrupt end after a construction company ignored safety rules, public complaints, and a verbal warning from the Florida Department of Transportation stating that it did not have a safe plan for getting heavy vehicles off its median construction site and onto the highway.
A tractor-trailer hauling concrete barriers exited onto the dark Interstate and attempted to make a wide left turn across four southbound lanes of traffic - at the same time two vehicles and another semi truck were rapidly approaching at freeway speeds.
The first vehicle hit the truck with enough momentum to carry it about a quarter-mile down the highway after shearing off its roof. Immediately after the first impact, a second vehicle smashed into the rear side of the tractor-trailer, and the driver was crushed by concrete barriers that fell off the truck. Finally, another semi truck smashed into the wreckage, proving that even a seasoned veteran truck driver could not avoid this dangerous situation. The drivers of the first two vehicles were pronounced dead at the scene; the passenger of the first vehicle was taken to Memorial Regional Hospital with serious injuries.
Stuart Ratzan, Esq., and Stuart Weissman, Esq., needed a visual presentation that would help them show this catastrophic tragedy and demonstrate how it could have been avoided.
The Ratzan Law Group's Visual Strategy
Having worked with High Impact for more than a decade on some of the most successful, record-setting cases in the country, the Ratzan Law Firm tasked us with building an animation series that would achieve the following visual objectives.
- Show What Happened: The first animation (above) showed the scene from an aerial perspective as the tractor-trailer entered the highway, blocked all lanes of traffic, and caused a multi-vehicle collision.
- Recreate Plaintiff’s POV: The second animation (above) magnified the Plaintiff's lack of visibility by recreating his perspective of the crash, up until the point of impact.
- Demonstrate Danger in Defense's Exit Plan: The third animation (below) demonstrated the danger involved in the construction company's proposed exit plan.
- Demonstrate Safe Alternative Exit Plan: The fourth animation (below) demonstrated a safe alternative exit plan that would have protected drivers from coming into contact with construction vehicles entering the highway.
The Defense’s 1st Strategy: Dispute Admissibility
The Defense’s first strategy heading into trial was to dispute the admissibility of these animations. Fortunately for the Ratzan Law Group, High Impact employs the most scientifically grounded methods the forensic industry has to offer. For example:
- On-Site Inspections were performed by High Impact's technicians to ensure the animations were based on sound science at the scene.
- 3D Laser Scanning was utilized to accurately collect modeling data to recreate the environment, vehicles, and any important objects involved.
- Nighttime Visibility was determined using a wide range of IES lab testing techniques that would ensure the accuracy of headlights and general visibility at night.
- Vehicle Motion was developed by forensic engineers using simulation software that would ensure physically accurate dynamics.
- Digital Photogrammetry methods were used to correctly render the surface colors and textures.
Experts were able to confidently testify to the judge that all four animations depicted an accurate representation of what happened, and the exhibits were all admitted as demonstrative evidence.
The Defense’s 2nd Strategy: Blame the Driver
The Defense shifted its focus to blaming the semi-truck driver. The truck driver was not a direct employee of the Defendant construction company, but he was an agent of the construction company and the company was responsible for the truck driver's direct supervision and control.
The Defense argued that because the driver did not follow its alternative approach, the semi-truck driver was to blame for the collision. The Defense claimed that what the driver should have done was accelerate alongside the highway (in the gravel) until reaching freeway speeds before merging into traffic.
This animation demonstrates how the Defense's proposed exit plan was not a safe alternative and it would have also posed a dangerous threat to drivers on the highway.
This next animation demonstrates a much safer alternative that would have easily protected drivers from coming into contact with semi trucks entering the highway.
The animations helped Mr. Ratzan and Mr. Weissman anchor the jurors' understanding of their client's catastrophic experience and death while demonstrating how this tragedy could have been avoided.
The jury awarded a $45M verdict to the victim’s family - more than half of which involved punitive damages.
All animations that High Impact creates, whether addressing medical or motor vehicle issues are always exquisite. They are always fair, accurate and precise. High Impact's processes help to ensure that its work is as bulletproof as possible from any opposition attack. Having worked with High Impact for almost a decade, I know that their attention to detail is a difference maker.Stuart Ratzan, Esq., Ratzan Law Group, Miami, FL