$844,566,000 Wrongful Death Verdict Truly About Justice, Not About The Money

CandlelightOn May 18, 2013, on South Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 25-year-old Chris Morena-Vega got into a car while he was drunk and negligently drove it into the back of the scooter which 49-year-old Timothy Blaikie was operating. Auto America, a Fort Lauderdale based used car dealer, owned and negligently entrusted the car which Moreno-Vega drove. Mr. Blaikie was catapulted off his scooter and into the windshield of the car the drunken Morena-Vega was driving.  Mr. Blaikie’s spine fractured on impact, killing him instantly. Timothy Blaikie left behind his adoring wife, Suzanne, and her 18-year-old son, Joey, whom Tim had adopted a decade prior. Just nine days earlier, Joey had been sent with the rest of his U.S. Marine Corps platoon to fight in Afghanistan. 

Suzanne hired Attorneys Robert McKee and Mary Luz Rodriguez of The McKee Law Group. McKee and Rodriguez, in turn, teamed up with David Brill and Joseph Rinaldi, Jr., of Brill & Rinaldi, The Law Firm.  The lawyers in the two law firms, located in neighboring offices in Weston, Florida, together brought suit against Moreno-Vega and the auto dealership for Tim Blaikie’s wrongful death.

The attorneys hoped to secure a monetary recovery for Suzanne and Joey, which at minimum, would compensate the family for the substantial financial loss of Tim’s significant yearly earnings. However, records indicated that the drunk driver did not possess insurance or any appreciable assets, and neither did the auto dealer.  Furthermore, neither the drunk driver nor the auto dealer responded to the lawsuit. That resulted in the court entering default judgments against each of them. All of the allegations in lawsuit brought by the Weston, Florida team of attorneys, McKee, Rodriguez and Brill, were deemed admitted. Yet, because the lawsuit requested a jury trial, a jury trial was still necessary to determine the amount of damages to which the family was entitled.   That trial would cost the lawyers money to prosecute even though any compensation awarded from a verdict would ultimately never be paid.

The attorneys, nonetheless, never hesitated moving forward with the trial. To these lawyers, whose passion for people and justice is unmatched, the answer was simple: To give Suzanne and Joey the chance to have a jury validate by a dollar figure the depth of their grief and send a message to the defendant drunk driver and auto dealer who didn’t even bother to answer the charge that they wantonly caused the death of Tim, let alone apologize for doing so. Only a jury of Suzanne’s and Joey’s peers, the lawyers knew, had the power via a favorable verdict to provide that validation, and with it a sense of closure.

So, on June 15, 2015, Robert McKee and David Brill presented the damage case to the jury they picked. The case took that one day. It was, however, an extraordinarily compelling and poignant day.

Suzanne testified how the love Tim and she shared was the stuff of romance novels. He and she were best friends, partners, parents and lovers.  With him gone, she was constantly lonely and alone, often felt she had no purpose, and frequently didn’t want to even get out of bed. The hurt had failed to abate even two years after police knocked on her door to tell her that Tim was dead.

Joey, meanwhile, wrote a letter to his father, Tim, the day Joey was deployed to Afghanistan nine days before Tim’s death.  In it, Joey called Tim his hero for being the perfect husband, role model and, especially, father, and making Joey the man he had become.  Joey, a National Honor Society student and two-sport athlete at a prominent Catholic high school, turned down a full academic scholarship to attend Florida State University to join the Marine Corps and help safeguard all of us and the freedoms we hold dear from terrorists.  He’s now a corporal and stationed in Iraq to fight the vile, deadly cancer which calls itself ISIS. And to Joey, the man who adopted him was the hero. If that doesn’t speak volumes of the man Tim Blaikie was, what would?

It and Suzanne’s powerful testimony assuredly resonated like a din to the jury who heard McKee and Brill’s case. After about 25 minutes of deliberation, they reached a verdict awarding $844,566,000. The amount was about four times more than Brill asked the jury to consider awarding in his fiery closing.

And, hopefully, the message the verdict amount sends will be heard and, just like the letter and the testimony did with the jury, resonate like a din to the drunk driver and the auto dealer who lacked the courage to even participate in the process. 

Yes, the verdict amount was and is extraordinary. But what was more extraordinary, and what personified what the trial was all about and why McKee and Brill tried the case despite the fact it would cost them money and they had no hope of recouping any, was what transpired after the verdict:  The four women and two men who constituted the jury left their jury box and stopped at the large desk at which McKee and Brill and the Blaikie family had gathered. There, each juror, many of whom had tears in their eyes, hugged the attorneys and Blaikies, each of whom likewise had tears in their eyes. And, each juror said the words which the drunk driver and the auto dealer should have said more than two years ago:  “I’m so sorry.”