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Family Awarded $50 Million Against Drunk Driver


Posted on Nov 01, 2007

Family Awarded $50 Million Boy suffered severe brain damage in collision; lawyer says he requires lifelong care. By Dana Willhoit The Ledger BARTOW | A Lakeland family whose young son suffered severe brain damage when he was hit by a drunken driver was awarded $50 million by a jury Wednesday afternoon, in what is thought to be the largest civil jury award in Polk County history. CHRONOLOGY OF THE CASE Sept. 3, 2004 -- Kathleen Road Mario Ladler II was 4 years old when his family's car was hit by a pickup driven by Michael Yow. August 2007 Yow pleased guilty to DUI with serious bodily injury in the case and was sentenced to five years in prison to be followed by 10 years of probation. October 31 The Ladler family was awarded $50 million by a jury Wednesday afternoon in a civil verdict against Yow. Aftermath of the Collision Mario Ladler's Injuries: Head trauma, a ruptured spleen and diaphragm. He has not been able to return to work. Mario Ladler II's Injuries: A shattered skull, pieces of which were pushed into his brain. Most of his frontal lobes had to be removed, according to the family's lawyer, David Kleinberg. Mario will never be able to hold a job and will need 24-hour supervision for the rest of his life, according to a pediatric neurologist. Yow's lawyer, Raymond Haas, said that the experts he consulted disagreed with that diagnosis. Mario Ladler II was 4 years old when his family's car was hit by a pickup driven by Michael Yow on Sept. 3, 2004, on Kathleen Road. He and his father, Mario Ladler, both suffered serious injuries. Mario's wife, Melody, and daughter Jayda, 2, escaped serious injury. Mario Ladler was treated for head trauma and a ruptured spleen and diaphragm. He has not been able to return to work, leaving Melody Ladler struggling to support the family. Yow pleaded guilty to DUI with serious bodily injury in the case in August and was sentenced to five years in prison to be followed by 10 years of probation. The civil verdict against Yow was returned by a jury in Judge Roger Alcott's courtroom at 1:45 p.m. Wednesday. After the crash, Mario Ladler II was flown to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, where most of his frontal lobes had to be removed, according to the family's lawyer, David Kleinberg of the Miami law firm Neufield, Kleinberg & Pinkiert. The accident shattered the child's skull and pushed pieces of it into his brain, according to doctors' testimony. His family struggled to care for him after the accident, but his impulse control and judgment were destroyed because of his brain damage, Kleinberg said. "Without round-the-clock care, he is a danger to himself and others," Kleinberg said. In September 2006, Mario Ladler II was institutionalized at the Florida Institute for Neurologic Rehabilitation in Wauchula for his own safety, Kleinberg said. According to a deposition given by pediatric neurologist Robert F. Cullen, Mario Ladler II will never be able to hold a job and will need 24-hour supervision for the rest of his life because of the brain damage he suffered in the accident. Cullen, who examined the child a year after the accident, said that the frontal lobes are the part of the brain responsible for emotional and social impulse control. "The frontal lobe sort of keeps in check what might be more primitive or animalistic behaviors," Cullen said. "It's a check and balance. It's a right and wrong. It's, if you will, a functional area you might say of conscience." Cullen said that as Mario Ladler II gets older, his behavior will worsen. "He will demonstrate with increasing age poor impulse control, increasing anger and aggression and frustration. Judgment and reason will be impaired, so he will do things without thinking of the consequences. He won't be able to initiate or carry out a task that would be important in the workplace." Cullen said that the child would require a 24-hour professional caretaker for the rest of his life. Raymond Haas of Tampa, Yow's lawyer, said that the experts he consulted disagreed with that diagnosis. They felt that it was not only unnecessary but harmful for the child to be institutionalized for the rest of his life, Haas said. Haas said he plans to appeal the verdict. Kleinberg says that Yow was insured with Geico at the time of the accident, but Haas said that whether Yow is represented by Geico is a matter that is also in litigation in a separate case. Kleinberg said that Melody Ladler issued the following statement after the jury returned its verdict: "We're very, very happy for little Mario and we hope now that he will get everything that he needs." Until now, the largest jury award in a Polk personal-injury case came in July when a Lakeland family was awarded nearly $45 million. A jury ruled a truck driver was at fault in the car crash death of Morgan Bryant and serious injury of her mother, Carla. Morgan's death resulted in a $5.7 million award, while her mother was awarded $39.2 million. The case is on appeal.

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