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WSHB Trial Alert: Defense Verdict in High Exposure Wrongful Death Case

June 24, 2014

Defense Verdict in Wrongful Death Case:
Demand Ranged From $12-45 Million Before Trial

In a case involving the death of a construction worker by a 30,000 pound forklift in the Maricopa County Superior Court, a 10-person jury returned a defense verdict after deliberating only two hours. WSHB attorney James W. Evans led a legal team representing the forklift driver and his employer, in a 10-day wrongful death trial which was completed to verdict on June 24, 2014.

The decedent, who was an employee of the on-site general contractor, was crushed to death on a large hospital construction site when the forklift driver ran over him while he was working in the roadway. The entire accident was documented on videotape which was played for the jury.  There was testimony that the forklift driver saw the decedent three to four minutes before the accident in approximately the same position he was in at the time of his death.  However, defense counsel argued that without the mandated flaggers, barricades, cones or other warning devices, the forklift driver had no notice of the decedent’s actual location at the time of his death.

Arizona is purely a comparative fault state. As a result, the jury could allocate fault to the decedent, the general contractor or any other parties or designated non-parties.  However, Plaintiff was precluded from actually naming the general contractor as a defendant in this case pursuant to the worker’s compensation statutes.

Defense counsel argued that the decedent and the general contractor decedent were ultimately responsible for the accident and the resulting death and the jury agreed. In a 9-1 verdict, the ten person jury awarded no damages to the surviving spouse and the decedent’s six children. During the course of the trial, Plaintiffs had demanded $12.5 million to settle the case.  The defense countered with a global offer of $2.25 million.  In closing arguments, Plaintiffs’ counsel requested a jury award of $14.2 million at a minimum.   Within minutes of the jury rendering its verdict, the Plaintiffs rejected a “high/low” offer from the defense of $1.0 million to $5.0 million. Minutes later, the jury rendered its verdict – no award.

Post verdict, members of the jury indicated that the defense of the forklift driver and his employer was compelling, logical and well supported by the evidence. The jury never considered Plaintiffs’ requested award of $14.2 million, and agreed that the actions of the decedent and his employer were the sole cause of the accident.  The accident occurred in January 2010 and the case had been pending for four years.



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