RWB is pleased to announce the recovery of an over $12 million settlement for a client who sustained a catastrophic brain injury while driving on one of the nation’s most dangerous stretches of highway; I-95 in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
"At issue is the dangerous illegal practice where drivers weave between the plastic poles separating express and regular lanes on major highways, like I-95 in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
It’s coined lane-diving.
To obtain the settlement, Stuart Ratzan, the lead attorney for the plaintiff, Blake Julius Loring, credited thinking outside the box.
Loring was side-swiped by Martin Lebron on I-95 near Ives Dairy Road after the Tampa resident cut across from the traffic-congested slower lanes into the express toll lanes.
While the goal of delineators is to separate lanes, drivers continue to disobey the rules and the system is not working, Loring alleged in the complaint.
Ratzan, a partner with, Ratzan Weissman & Boldt in Coconut Grove, said that while the driver was of “obvious blame,” his strategy was to look further into the cause that led the driver to make the fateful decision: the delineator poles.
Ratzan’s law firm aimed the lawsuit at the driver at fault, as well as several additional defendants, including the Florida Department of Transportation and the two companies hired to place the poles, the since bankrupt DBI Services LLC and Louis Berger Hawthorne Services Inc, both of which are out-of-state contractors.
His strategy for securing the multimillion-dollar win for his client?
“When we’re strategizing a case, we’re not strategizing in a way to convince an insurance adjuster to pay us,” Ratzan said. “We’re strategizing in a way to give a jury an opportunity to do justice.”
Ratzan said that the most challenging obstacle was holding accountable those two entities while still understanding that the jury could apportion a significant amount of fault to Martin Lebron, the driver who hit his client.
And Ratzan credited the firm’s research as they discovered the poles were initially installed 20 feet apart, then 10 feet apart. However, through government reports, Ratzan found that the state became aware that placing the poles at an even closer distance was safer for drivers.
“If they move the sticks to five feet apart, they reduce lane-diving by up to 90%, plus or minus,” Ratzan explained.
While in other areas of the county, the poles were stationed 5 feet apart, the stretch of I-95 where the accident occurred still had the 10-foot placement gaps and broken poles created a 30-foot gap, which Ratzan said encouraged the driver to lane-dive, causing the wreck.
Loring alleged that the defendants DBI, FDOT, and Lewis Berger Hawthorne Services, failed to maintain a safe and effective system to separate the express lanes from the general-purpose lanes.
The gaps invited drivers to “lane dive” or change lanes into or out of the express lanes created by downed or missing delineator poles, injuring users of the express or the general-purpose lanes, Loring alleged in the complaint.
Ratzan was joined by his law firm partners, Stuart Weissman, Kimberly Boldt, and an associate, Mario Giommoni, in representing Loring, who was pursuing a career in the Miami-Dade Fire Department with hopes of being an air rescue medic. Loring’s career ended due to the wreck and the catastrophic brain injury he sustained.
Takeaways for other attorneys headed into court on a case like this: “Whenever you receive an inquiry to represent somebody who’s been in a wreck on I-95, consider logistics of that wreck,” Ratzan said, adding that if the wreck involved lane-diving, “then you should look a little deeper than just the individual lane-diver.”
“We have a systematic problem in South Florida with this highway,” Ratzan said. “The simple truth is that the current system is not working, it is not safe, and change is needed.”
Eight years ago, a public television investigation reported that the cost to keep up with delineator destruction was about $1 million a year and that the government allocated express toll lane revenue to pay the bills.
Opposing counsel — Carolyne Moomaw of the Law Offices of Sanabria & Marsh Attorney for Martin & Teresa Lebron Tampa, and Jonathan Rosenberg of Mitrani Rynor Adamsky Toland for Louis Berger — declined to comment; and this is not the firm’s first win dealing with this type of lawsuit.
Ratzan has a track record of multimillion-dollar settlements in these accidents, such as a $7.5 million settlement in a similar lane-diving-related wreck that led to a mother sustaining a brain injury and the tragic death of a 10-year-old boy.
In recent years, Ratzan has advocated to prevent these accidents from happening. He said, “How many more brain injuries and deaths will it take to create change?”
Ratzan Weissman & Boldt have obtained more than $200 million in verdicts and settlements. Our firm is dedicated to honorable and unyielding representation of patients, consumers, and catastrophically injured individuals in state and federal courts. These cases are examples of the achievements of our firm’s attorneys. All are real cases. However, these examples should not be taken as a guarantee that the same results would be achieved in another case.