Fowler White Burnett P.A. (Miami, FL) Beats $50M Personal Injury Lawsuit Spanning 7 Years

Lead counsel Bruno Renda said:

“It’s very difficult to ask a jury to find in your favor when the implication is that a mother was ultimately responsible for her child’s death”.

“We overcame massive hurdles to get to this point, but it was worth it. Our clients and their families are finally vindicated.”

If you like stats, here are some figures from the case:

  • Two trucks and a passenger vehicle crash on I-95 in 2016
  • Two fatalities, including a child, and another seriously brain injured child
  • Original complaint was filed in 2016
  • Three amended complaints
  • Four defendants (two commercial drivers and their employers)
  • Six judges (trial judge was William Thomas)
  • More than 150 depositions
  • Well over 2,100 court filings
  • Two interlocutory appeals
  • Multiple prior trial settings
  • A non-binding arbitration
  • More than half of Lead Counsel Bruno Renda’s career

Fowler White shareholders, Bruno Renda, Allan R. Kelley, and appellate counsel, Cameron W. Eubanks obtained a complete defense verdict on behalf of their clients, BOS Transport, LLC and commercial driver, Orestes Zamora Fleites in this ferociously-litigated case that lasted seven years.

As part of its trial strategy, Fowler White’s Transportation Division includes a member of its appellate practice group, like Eubanks, to preserve error for appeal and argue evidentiary issues, which allows trial counsel to focus on the trial.

This tragic accident happened on a Monday morning at approximately 8:00 a.m. on July 11, 2016. At the time of the accident, commercial driver, Orestes Zamora was an owner-operator on dispatch for Miami-based transportation company, BOS Transport, LLC.

Zamora picked up a loaded Evergreen shipping container from Port Miami at approximately 7:32 a.m. He entered I-95 north from I-395 and established himself in the number 3 all-purpose lane. Zamora was headed to Royal Palm Beach to deliver the container. He was approaching the 135th Street exit ramp when, suddenly and without warning, a 2000 black Nissan Altima came spinning counterclockwise into his lane. Thanks to his training and experience, Zamora immediately reacted and was able to bring his loaded tractor-trailer to a controlled stop. Unfortunately, Zamora was unable to avoid the impact with the out-of-control Nissan.

The Nissan was driven by Plaintiff, Nouse Andre Lacroix. Three of her children ages 9, 11, and 15 sat in the back seat. Their nanny, Denise Armand sat in the front passenger seat. According to Miami Beach Police officers who happened upon the scene on their way home, all occupants wore their seatbelts. The tragic sequence of events started when Lacroix, who recently entered I-95 north from the 125th Street entrance ramp, attempted to merge from the auxiliary lane into the number 1 all-purpose lane to avoid exiting off the 135th Street exit ramp. At that point, Lacroix’s rear left bumper collided with the right front bumper of a loaded cement truck belonging to Titan America, LLC and driven by Roberto Sanson. Their mild collision described by Florida Highway Patrol Trooper, John McGlynn as an unintentional “PIT maneuver” – a move used by law enforcement to stop fleeing vehicles – caused the Nissan to spin counterclockwise across three lanes of traffic and into Zamora’s path. The impact between Zamora’s tractor-trailer and the Nissan killed front passenger, Denise Armand, and Lacroix’s 15 year-old son seating behind her. Lacroix’s 11 year-old daughter sustained a severe traumatic brain injury and was in a coma for several weeks.

Fowler White’s Transportation Division includes an accident response team (“ART”) that, once activated, responds to an accident scenes to preserve evidence and protect clients’ interests early on. Now-retired shareholder, Walter G. Latimer, responded to the scene of the accident on behalf of BOS Transport and Zamora within hours. The roadway was completely shut down for approximately 8 hours while the Florida Highway Patrol initiated its traffic homicide investigation. Latimer led the defense team with Renda for years until his retirement in 2022.

Plaintiffs retained a team of lawyers early on led by Alan Goldfarb and David Appleby of Alan Goldfarb, P.A. The deceased child’s father, Jacques Lindor was represented by former Florida Bar president, Ed Blumberg of Deutsch Blumberg, and Armand’s estate was represented by Jeff Davis of Jeffrey R. Davis, P.A. Also involved in the case on behalf of the plaintiffs were James Nosich of Nosich & Ganz, Joel Perwin of Joel S. Perwin, P.A.

Plaintiffs filed suit against BOS Transport, Zamora, Titan, and Sanson two weeks after the accident on July 25, 2016. Titan and Sanson eventually settled for a confidential amount with all plaintiffs in 2020. BOS Transport and Zamora settled with Armand’s estate shortly thereafter.

Plaintiffs’ accident reconstruction expert, Don Fournier theorized that the accident did not happen as the Florida Highway Patrol and eye witnesses described it. According to Fournier, Lacroix was established in the number 2 all-purpose lane when Titan’s driver, Sanson failed to spot the black Nissan in front of him and rear ended it. Lacroix then merged left and into Zamora’s path. Plaintiffs attributed Sanson’s failure to see the Nissan to undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea which caused Sanson to fall into “micro sleep”, according to their sleep expert, Stefano Kales. Fournier’s reconstruction put Zamora traveling at 75 to 80 mph before impact. Plaintiffs’ human factors expert, Dr. David Strayer testified that Zamora did not realize he was going 15 to 20 mph above the speed limit, because he was distracted on a hands-free cell phone call that caused “inattention blindness”. During his three-day deposition, Zamora repeatedly denied that he was distracted or speeding even though his cell phone records suggested he was on a call around the time of the accident.

In the seven years of litigation, five of which included Titan and Sanson represented by Lewis Brisbois attorneys, Seth Alhadeff and Todd Ehrenreich, the case was before six judges starting with Judge Ruiz-Cohen and eventually going to trial twice before Judge William Thomas. The parties took more than 150 depositions and the court docket reflects 2155 filings. The case saw two interlocutory appeals and a non-binding arbitration, followed by a motion for leave to add a claim for punitive damages against BOS and Zamora which was ultimately denied.

The case was set for trial several times. In an effort to curtail discovery and get to trial, Goldfarb dismissed the children’s personal injury claims when the case was before Judge Rodney Smith. However, Smith’s nomination but delayed appointment to the federal bench forced Goldfarb to refile the children’s case in 2020 to avoid the expiration of the statute of limitations. The pandemic further delayed trial.

Only three months before a January 2023 trial setting, the defense team had to replace their accident reconstruction expert, Dr. Jeff Ball, who passed away. The defense hired Daniel Melcher of Focus Forensics who had only three months to learn the case and recreate the accident. In December 2022, just weeks before trial, Zamora was hospitalized and would be unable to attend a January trial. Then presiding judge, Jennifer Bailey granted an emergency continuance and reset the trial to begin on May 29, 2023. As administrative judge, Bailey reassigned the case to Judge Thomas in the back up division because the trial was expected to last several weeks.

Zamora eventually recovered and the case went to trial for the first time on May 29, 2023. The trial ended in a mistrial with a deadlocked jury. Judge Thomas quickly reset the case for a second trial starting on June 26, 2023. On June 30, 2023 when Zamora was expected to testify in the defense’s case, he was emergently hospitalized for issues related to his December hospitalization, and was unable to testify. This forced the defense to make a last minute strategic move to read Zamora’s testimony from the first trial.

As in the first trial, the defense team argued that Zamora was not distracted because he perceived the Nissan as a hazard and reacted to it by applying the brakes right away. Even Plaintiffs’ expert, Dr. Strayer had to admit in cross examination that Zamora responded “immediately” and applied the brakes “in short order”. Similarly, Fournier had to concede some significant flaws in his reconstruction, including that Zamora must have perceived the Nissan as a hazard before it even entered his lane based on brake marks, as well as glaring discrepancies between his scenario and eye witness accounts of the accident.

During his closing, Goldfarb called Zamora a “bald-faced liar,” and slammed BOS Transport’s alleged failure to monitor its driver’s cell phone usage, even though Zamora was complying with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations on cell phone use at the time of the accident. Goldfarb then asked the jury to award Plaintiffs $50 million in pain and suffering.

After two hours deliberating, the 6-person jury agreed with the defense that Orestes Zamora did not cause the accident, and could not have avoided it. Tragically, the evidence showed that Lacroix set off the sequence of events that led to this terrible accident.