A jury has ordered a Florida Keys company to pay $11.8 million to the families of four Spanish tourists who were killed in a crash on the Overseas Highway in 2018.
Discount Rock & Sand, a Marathon company that does construction, landscaping and hauling, was negligent in the fatal crash on March 5, 2018, in Islamorada, the jury decided after a trial last week at U.S. District Court in Key West.
Lawyers for the families argued the company failed to properly train or screen the driver of its truck that rear-ended the women’s rented SUV as it was stopped, with its blinker on, waiting to make a left-hand turn.
The truck, which was carrying portable toilets, pushed the women’s SUV into oncoming traffic and directly into the path of a large motor home.
Killed in the crash were Margarita Cortés-Pardo, 31, María López-Bermejo Rosselló, 31, Teresa Sánchez Quetglas, 30, and Ana Gaitán Díaz, 31, longtime friends from Spain who were vacationing in South Florida and the Keys.
Jurors deliberated for about six hours over two days before returning the verdict on Friday, said attorney Paul Jon Layne, of the Coral Gables firm Silva and Silva, which represented the victims’ families.
“We’re grateful to the jury for what we believe is a just verdict,” Layne said on Tuesday. “Our clients went home with just a small amount of peace they hadn’t had since they lost their loved ones.”
Attorneys listed in court records as representing Discount Rock & Sand did not return messages Tuesday.
The jury awarded a total of $11.8 million, which included $2.36 million each to the families of Cortés-Pardo, López-Bermejo Rosselló and Sánchez Quetglas.
Each of the women’s parents received $1 million and $360,000 went to each woman’s estate.
The jury awarded $4,720,000, twice what the other victims’ relatives received, to Elia Bonfante, the surviving husband of Ana Gaitán Díaz.
“When it’s a surviving spouse there are other elements of damages that are available,” Layne said. These include loss of support and services and mental pain and suffering.
The four women were in a rented Nissan Rogue headed north near mile marker 80 on U.S. 1 that March afternoon with Cortés-Pardo behind the wheel when she stopped to make a left-hand turn.
When she did, an Isuzu truck driven by Carlos Manso Blanco of Marathon smashed into the Rogue from behind, pushing it into the path of a 2016 Allegro motor home.
The motor home plowed into the rented Rogue, sending it southbound and into a tree. The jury cleared the driver of the motor home, Daniel Pinkerton, of Alaska, finding he was not at fault.
The Rogue was so mangled that first responders at first believed there were only three victims in the SUV.
Manso and the families reached a confidential settlement last year and he was not a defendant at the time of the trial.
Traci Brown Taylor, an attorney for Manso, declined to comment Tuesday.
In 2018, Manso was ordered to traffic school and his driver’s license was suspended for six months after investigators found his driving at the time of the crash was “careless,” but not reckless.
Blood tests showed Manso was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs and that he was going about 5 mph above the then-55-mph speed limit.
There was not enough evidence to show the case was anything more than a tragic accident, a Monroe County assistant state attorney said in 2018.
Layne said Manso was not paying attention when he crashed into the women’s SUV.
“He had taken the Fifth Amendment on whether he was using his phone or not but he was certainly distracted,” Layne said.
The speed limit in that area where the crash happened was later lowered to 50 mph by the Florida Department of Transportation.
That was a compromise after Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay had lobbied the state to reduce the speed limit between mile marker 78 to mile marker 80 from 55 to 45 mph.