George Butler left the bar where he was drinking and began driving home in his pickup truck. He was allegedly traveling more than 80 mph when he crossed the roadway’s centerline, struck several cars, and collided head-on with a vehicle occupied by Maria del Rosario Bustamante and her three sons.
On impact, Bustamante’s vehicle flipped onto its side. Her sons Jesus Martinez, 6, and Jordy Martinez, 1, who were belted in the back seat, were killed. They are survived by their parents and minor brother.
Eleven-year-old Juan Martinez, who was also belted in the back seat, suffered an abdominal wound from the lap belt, requiring surgery, and a brachial plexus injury that left him with limited use of his left, nondominant hand. His past medical expenses totaled about $170,200, and his future anticipated medical expenses are estimated at about $750,000.
Bustamante, 32, suffered a compound fracture to her right foot. She underwent surgery for implantation of a plate and screws and continues to suffer pain and a limited range of motion in the foot. Her past medical expenses totaled about $159,200, and her future medical expenses are estimated at $300,000.
Butler pleaded no contest to charges of driving under the influence and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
A personal representative of the deceased boys’ estates and Bustamante and her husband, individually and on behalf of their minor son, sued Butler, alleging he was driving under the influence of alcohol, speeding, and driving recklessly.
The trial was bifurcated. In the compensatory damages phase, Butler admitted fault, and the jury awarded about $13.89 million. The award included $2 million to each parent for each boy’s death; about $4.92 million to Juan Martinez; about $959,200 to Bustamante for her own injuries; and the remainder to the boys’ estates.
In the punitive damages phase, the plaintiffs presented witness testimony that Butler had appeared intoxicated and agitated at the scene and had demanded to know why the emergency medical technicians were not tending to him.
At counsel’s suggestion, the jury used the numbers of Jordy’s and Jesus’s birthdays to configure the punitive damages verdict of $25,412.
Counsel anticipates posttrial motions.
Citation: Schlichting v. Butler, No. 08-CA-004224 (Fla., Lee Co. Cir. Dec. 2, 2010).
Plaintiff counsel: AAJ members John F. Romano, Lake Worth, Florida; and Preston J. Scheiner, Fort Myers, Florida.
Plaintiff experts: Harold Linde, grief and bereavement, Tampa; Craig Lichtblau, life-care planning, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida; and Bernard Pettingill, economics, North Palm Beach, Florida.
Defense experts: Alan Raphael, psychology, Miami; and Geraldine Pennachio, life-care planning, and Stephen Durham, economics, both of Tampa.