In October, a Florida jury found a general contractor liable for $45 million for the death of a motorist killed by one of the contractor’s trucks pulling out of a road construction job site. The case highlights the importance of maintaining a safe and accessible construction site both for the workers on-site and civilians located or traveling nearby.
In 2014, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) awarded a contract for the construction of a segment of an I-75 renovation project to the contractor. The contract was for over $85 million. The work site for the project was an active stretch of the I-75 interstate in Broward County, Florida. The contractor performed work in closed lanes and along the median of the highway during the project.
On May 28, 2015, while exiting the job site, a truck driver working on the project attempted a U-turn with a heavily loaded truck at a dangerously low speed. The truck driver’s slow maneuver caused oncoming motorists to crash into the tractor-trailer. One of the motorists, the husband of the plaintiff in the lawsuit, died upon impact with the truck.
The plaintiff’s complaint alleged that the contractor failed to provide a safe method of exiting the work site which resulted in the death of her husband. The plaintiff contended that the contractor should have had a detailed plan for the maintenance or control of traffic and that such requirements were a part of the contractor’s agreement with FDOT.
The trial lasted four weeks. At trial, the plaintiff also argued that the contractor had received prior verbal and written warnings of deficiencies in its safety plan for the project. The jury agreed with the plaintiff and found the contractor had violated the requirements of its contract with FDOT and had acted negligently in causing the death of the plaintiff’s husband.
Of note, the jury found the contractor liable even though the truck driver who caused the motorist’s death was actually an employee of a subcontractor. The $45 million verdict included $20 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages. The amount of the punitive damages and the imposition of vicarious liability on the contractor should serve as a stark reminder to all construction industry participants regarding the importance of providing a safe work environment. Ignoring safety standards can result in serious injury or the tragic loss of life, and the resulting civil damages liability can be crippling to any contractor, regardless of size.