BY DAVID LYONS
Shaken by the case of a young mother who suffered severe brain damage after driving off a dark road and into a canal, a Miami-Dade jury has decided she and her son deserve nearly $18 million in what lawyers say is the largest award in memory for a negligence lawsuit.
The tragedy unfolded in the early morning hours of July 5, 1993, when Aileen Aguiles, visiting South Florida from New Jersey, was returning to her mother’s Southwest Dade home with two friends shortly before dawn. They had celebrated the Fourth of July on South Beach.
Unfamiliar with the route, her lawyers say, Aguiles failed to negotiate a curve in a development at Southwest 132nd Avenue Road and 27th Street. She drove into the canal. The accident killed her friends, Tabatha Matos and Eva Garcia, both 22 and also of New Jersey. Aguiles, a bank clerk and single mother who was 21 at the time, ended up with the mental capacity of a 3- or 4-year- old, said one of her lawyers, Gonzalo Dorta.
Dorta, a sole practitioner, and co-counsel Larry Brenner of the Miami firm of Silva & Silva, filed suit against MG Construction, the development’s general contractor. They contended that the company, which had built the road under a plan approved by the county, failed to install guard- rails, reflectors and proper lighting.
“We asked for economic damages of $4.2 million, and we left it to the jurors’ discretion to deter- mine the value of the losses to the mother and to her 6-year-old son for the rest of her life,” Dorta said.
Fort Lauderdale attorney K.P. Jones, who defended the Miami construction firm, could not be reached for comment.
The case went to trial before Circuit Judge Steve Levine and lasted for two weeks. Late Friday, the three-man, three-woman jury awarded $11.2 million to the mother and $7.3 million to the son, Eric James Rodriguez. The award was reduced to $17.6 million after the panel decided that MG was 94 percent responsible. Jurors assigned the remaining 5 percent to Aguiles and 1 percent to Miami-Dade. The county, which was not sued, will not be required to pay any money.
Any collection will not be immediate. The defense has 30 days to appeal. And the plaintiffs are discussing the judgment with MG’s insurance company, Ohio Casualty.