Posted on Jul 08, 2007
Jury awards nearly $7 million, victim gets nothing
By Aisling Swift
Friday, July 6, 2007
A 51-year-old Golden Gate Estates man severely injured by a woman in a 2003 drunken driving crash on Immokalee Road has been awarded $6.99 million for his injuries and lost wages.
But Chadwick Paddock and his wife, Donna, likely will never see that money.
The defendant, Yuri Jimenez of Golden Gate Estates, is serving a 4-and-a-quarter-year prison sentence, awaiting deportation to Mexico. Jimenez had no driver’s license or insurance.
Her uncle, Tarcisio Vasquez Delgado, who had insurance, was found not negligent because jurors determined that Jimenez, then 20, stole his car, taking keys he’d left on a key holder in his home.
Jimenez and others testified it was the first time she’d ever consumed alcohol and she doesn’t remember how much, although blood-alcohol levels indicate a dozen beers.
“Hopefully, this verdict will serve as a reminder for people not to drink and drive,” Paddock’s attorney, Randall Spivey of Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner of Fort Myers, said this week. “This case illustrates the tragic effect that drunk driving crashes have on the victims and their families.”
The verdict came last Friday night after a six-day trial before Collier Circuit Judge Cynthia Ellis. It involved a crash that occurred at 6:51 p.m. Nov. 7, 2003, on Immokalee Road that broke many of Paddock’s bones — his left hip, pelvis, right knee and both feet, causing significant lifelong disabilities.
Jurors awarded Paddock $1.5 million for past pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life and $3 million for future pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. The jury also awarded $651,656 in past medical expenses, $802,500 in future medical expenses, $100,000 for past lost wages, and $175,600 for future lost wages.
They also awarded him $7,675 for the value of his totaled car and $3,500 for lost use of the car until he got a replacement. In addition, they awarded Donna Paddock $500,000 for the past loss of her husband’s services and $500,000 for her future losses.
Jurors knew Jimenez was here illegally, but were unaware she had no money or insurance and that she was in prison and faced deportation until they heard testimony during the punitive damages phase. They learned that her attorney had to buy her the dress she wore each day of trial. Jurors deliberated further and awarded Paddock no punitive damages.
Spivey said he intends to appeal the verdict clearing Jimenez’s uncle of negligence because testimony showed Jimenez lied on the stand, contradicting what she said during depositions — that she often drove her uncle’s car to work at McDonald’s. Spivey said a witness also testified she’d used the car regularly to drive to work. And, Spivey said, her uncle testified during depositions she’d driven his car twice before the crash, but testified at trial it was only once.
“We’re confident we’re going to get a new trial based on that,” he said of the contradictions between testimony and depositions.
Attempts to reach Jimenez’s attorney, Matthew Scarborough of Scarborough Hill & Rugh in Tampa, through telephone calls and e-mails were unsuccessful. His co-counsel was Tonald Spinks.
Jurors heard from 13 witnesses for the plaintiff and four called by defense attorneys.
Defense attorney Ronald Buschbom, of Conroy Simberg Ganon Krevans & Abel in Fort Myers, who represented Jimenez’s uncle with co-counsel Michael Nuzzo, said he had a $10,000 policy.
But jurors can’t hear information about insurance during the trial, or that Paddock receives a Social Security disability benefit, and how his medical expenses were paid by his wife’s insurance.
“It affects how jurors think,” Buschbom said.
Buschbom said jurors had to determine whether Jimenez had permission to drive her uncle’s car, and if not, was Vasquez negligent for leaving his keys on an inside hook where Jimenez knew he stored them. She’d once lived with her aunt and uncle in another home, Buschbom said, and she knew they often left their front door unlocked.
Vasquez testified that she’d once stolen his car before, they’d argued and she promised never to do it again.
“He’s an innocent guy who was just driving down the road and the car in front of him swerves to the right and a car hit him head-on and just clobbered him,” Buschbom said of Paddock. “And I’ve got an innocent guy who owns the car and is being held responsible. Theft is pretty broad. It may be a relative, but they don’t have permission.”
“It’s just unfortunate that she made some really bad choices and ended up almost killing Mr. Paddock,” Buschbom said, calling Jimenez an inexperienced drinker who wasn’t aware what alcohol could do, just that each time her friend gave her more beer that day, she felt better.
What she did to Paddock was a tragedy, he said, and affected his entire family. At the time, Buschbom said Paddock’s children were 12 and 14 and he liked to attend their school games and go to NASCAR races and hockey games.