A tractor trailer jack-knifed into traffic at a road construction crew’s moving roadblock, which resulted in an 11-vehicle pile-up on I-75 in Florida. The rolling roadblock was located on the blind side of a hill. Two people died as a result of the collision. This wrongful death lawsuit involves James Brashear, who died in the crash, and his 11-year old son Tyler, who survived.
The plaintiff alleges that Zep failed to adequately warn drivers about the road block. Zep responds that the road block was properly marked, and that the accident resulted instead from the truck driver’s negligence.
Judge Rick DeFuria presides over the case, Alterman v. Zep Construction, in Sarasota, Florida.
Lead plaintiff attorney Mitchel Chusid told the jury during opening statement that “the evidence in this case is going to show each and every one of you that not only were these defendants — this defendant and that defendant [pointing] — not only were they negligent, what they did on that highway on October 1, 2007, was outrageous, was in complete disregard for human safety and human life.”
Mr. Chusid predicted that the evidence would show that other drivers on the road had to slam their brakes to avoid a collision with the rolling roadblock. In addition, Zep’s designated worksite traffic supervisor allegedly had never read many of the required safety rules and guidelines. Mr. Chusid said that the defendants saved $1,040 by failing to comply with their own traffic safety plan requirements to provide a warning vehicle, to display variable message signs warning of a pace car, and to restrict traffic from entering the highway.
The plaintiff’s 11-year old son, seated in the passenger seat, survived the crash. “There must have been an angel watching over this boy,” said Mr. Chusid, “because the only part of that car that remained kind of intact was where he was seated. Unfortunately, what that boy experienced in that car is the worst possible thing that any 11-year old boy, or any human being, could experience…his dad was conscious for a couple of seconds, five seconds, he looks at his son, before he dies, with his last gasp of breath, he says, I love you, and proceeds to bleed to death on his son’s lap.”
Mr. Chusid predicted that the defense would blame the accident on the truck driver, because the driver was eating. However, according to Mr. Chusid, the truck driver vehemently denied eating, and the food he had with him was rice and beans. A meticulous police search of the truck’s cab allegedly failed to reveal a fork or a spoon. ”This is not a hamburger; this is not a sandwich — rice and beans,” said Mr. Chusid. “How do you eat rice and beans without a fork and a spoon?”
Defense attorney Gregory Giannuzzi asserted that the truck driver’s negligence was the sole cause of the accident. Defense counsel predicted that the evidence would show that the truck driver had plenty of warning, that the truck driver was speeding, that the truck driver was not wearing shoes, that other tractor trailers were able to stop in time, and that there were just 27 feet of skid marks before the point of the first collision.
According to Mr. Giannuzzi, the truck driver was also distracted at the time of the accident because he was eating. He could have put the food elsewhere, said Mr. Giannuzzi, but instead he placed the food next to him, because he most likely intended to eat it as he was making his trip.
The defense also suggested that the truck driver did see some warning signs, and yet failed to slow down. According to Mr. Giannuzzi the evidence would show that the Florida Department of Transportation field personnel did not issue any complaints about signage prior to the accident.
CVN is offering live and on-demand coverage of Alterman v. Zep Construction.