03 April 2017

$8.2 Million Verdict for Motorcyclist Injured in Miami Crash

By: Celia Ampel, Daily Business Review

When paramedics and police arrived at the scene of a Miami crash that severely injured a motorcyclist, the young man’s helmet was on the ground.

As Dylan Machado emerged from a three-week coma and began months of rehabilitation, his motorcycle was held by a towing company, but the helmet was never recovered. It wasn’t clear whether Machado had the helmet strapped on when a car pulled into his lane and hit him.

That became one of the key factors in Machado’s civil trial against the car’s driver, Maria Rodriguez. Defense attorneys argued 24-year-old Machado was largely at fault for his own damages, which included a brain injury and fractures at the base of his skull, his nose and his kneecap.

After tracking down evidence, Machado’s attorneys won an $8.2 million verdict, persuading a Miami-Dade jury that the motorcyclist was only 12 percent liable for his injuries.

The crash happened on a Sunday morning in March 2014, when Machado was traveling north in the left lane of Ludlam Road between Bird Road and Coral Way. Rodriguez pulled out of a driveway, merged into the left lane and hit Machado, according to his lawyers, Michael Cecere of Cecere Santana in Sunrise and Henry Seiden of Seiden Law in Delray Beach.

“We argued that she just did not look,” Cecere said.

Machado was a Miami Dade College student, completing dance training in the New World School of the Arts. After physical, psychological, cognitive and occupational therapy, he’s made a “remarkable recovery,” Cecere said.

“He has not been able to return to dance, but he returned to college and he’s taken some classes with the assistance of what’s called an access program that they have at the college,” allowing Machado extra time and assistance for schoolwork, Cecere said.

But Machado’s personality has changed significantly, his lawyer said. He “takes things very literally” and has developed obsessive-compulsive behaviors, making socializing much more difficult, Cecere said.

At trial before Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Migna Sanchez-Llorens, Rodriguez’s attorneys argued Machado had time to avoid the crash. The defense’s accident reconstruction expert said Rodriguez was visible for 8.5 seconds before the crash. It would have taken Machado 3.7 seconds to bring his motorcycle to a stop once he saw her if he was going around the speed limit of 30 mph, which a police traffic homicide investigator testified he was.

The homicide investigator was sent to the crash as a precaution in case Machado died.

The defense expert also said it would have taken Rodriguez 2.5 seconds to go from where she began the lane change to the point of impact, Cecere said, which Machado’s counsel argued was evidence he did not have enough time to avoid the crash. Machado’s attorneys argued Rodriguez violated his right-of-way.

The helmet issue was a bigger challenge. The defense’s biomechanical expert, William “Mike” Scott, testified Machado’s injuries were so severe that the helmet must not have been on Machado’s head, or if it was, it was not strapped properly.

Plaintiffs counsel knew there was an eyewitness to the crash who was waiting for the bus. But for two years, the lawyers couldn’t find him. The police report listed his name, but it was misspelled and the address was wrong. No date of birth was included.

After the traffic homicide investigator’s deposition was repeatedly rescheduled, she came in to testify and said she took a recorded statement from the witness, Roosevelt Dix. The statement had never been mentioned to either party.

When the litigants spoke to Dix, he said Machado was wearing a helmet and it came off when it hit the ground. But he wasn’t a reliable witness, both parties agreed. He had vision and memory problems, and he mixed up some of the known facts of the case.

Plaintiffs counsel hired a biomechanical expert, Mariusz Ziejewski, who bought the same helmet Machado wore and performed tests. His opinion was that a properly strapped helmet, with 200 pounds of force, could expand three inches and slide off the wearer’s head.

The jury on March 7 found Rodriguez liable for 88 percent of Machado’s damages, which came out to about $9.3 million. The award will be reduced to $8.2 million to account for Machado’s fault.

Defense attorneys James Clark and Robert Coulombe of Clark Robb Mason Coulombe & Buschman in Miami said there was only a $10,000 insurance policy in the case and “no deep pockets” to pay a judgment.

“We were at a loss as to why plaintiffs counsel wanted to go get a big verdict,” Clark said.

They filed a motion for a new trial, arguing in part that Machado’s counsel made prejudicial remarks that Rodriguez should be held “accountable.” The motion also claims the homicide investigator should not have been able to tell the jury Rodriguez violated the right-of-way and that the judge should not have denied a jury instruction based on Dix’s testimony that Machado was driving on the wrong side of the road.

Cecere said the defense’s other witnesses said Machado was on the right side of the road and that the homicide investigator was qualified to make the right-of-way determination.

“There were no improper statements made in closing,” Cecere added. “The motion exaggerates what was said. There was no argument that the jury should punish the defendant or that the defendant had no right to defend herself.”

The motion will be heard in May.

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