09 August 2017
$15M wrongful death verdict for child of truck repairman killed at work
Broward Jury Awards $11 Million in Customer’s Death at Truck Dealership
BY: Katheryn Hayes Tucker, Daily Business Review
A jury awarded $15.3 million in damages for the wrongful death of a customer crushed at a commercial truck dealership in Fort Lauderdale.
The jury apportioned 70 percent of the damages to Rechtien International Trucks and 30 percent to the late Diego Rodrigues Matos. The final judgment awards $10.8 million to his only heir, daughter Sofia Rodrigues Stoelzle.
Sofia, now 5, was 20 months old when her father was killed, according to the family’s attorneys, Marc Wites of Wites & Kapetan in Lighthouse Point and Harry Shevin of Shevin Law Firm in Boca Raton.
The father was a landscaper who went to the Rechtien truck sales, rental and parts dealership to find a replacement for a broken truck part. An employee inside the store instructed him to go out onto the lot and find a similar truck with the needed part, Wites and Shevin said in an interview Tuesday.
The company contested that point at the four-day trial before Broward Circuit Judge Michael Robinson, alleging Diego Rodrigues Matos was trespassing, according to Wites and Shevin.
Mark Crishon Burton of the Law Office of Hugh Behan in Hollywood defended Rechtien. He had no comment by deadline.
The jury dealt with that dispute Friday in the first question on the two-page verdict form: “Was Diego Matos invited on the premises?”
“Yes,” the jury answered.
The plaintiffs attorneys said they felt like they won their case with their first witness, the former owner of the company, who conceded their client was not trespassing but denied he was asked to go onto the lot to look for the part.
“What the company should have done is sent an employee. It was an employee’s job, not a customer’s job,” Wites said.
Wites said Matos found one truck that matched his, opened the unlocked door and pushed the bottom to lift the truck bed so he could take a picture of the needed part underneath. What he didn’t know was that the part that held up the truck bed was broken. The truck bed fell while he was looking under it, crushing his neck.
His fiancee and the mother of his child, Natalia Stoelzle, was with him. Because they were not married, she had no legal claim, Wites and Shevin said. As the sole heir, the child received the award.
“Harry and I are very proud of this verdict for this family,” Wites said. The two were law school classmates at the University of Florida, but it was their first time trying a case together.
The case is Stoelzle v. Rechtien, No. CACE-14-022085.