STEPHENSON v. FLORIDA DOT
Jury Awards Heroic Truck Driver’s Family $3.6 Million
Chris Stephenson wanted to be close to his family in Jacksonville so he traded a job driving a Northeast trucking route for a local assignment with Infinger Transportation Co. In the late and heavily rain-soaked afternoon of August 12, 2000, Chris was driving a gasoline tanker for Infinger and was at the base of Jacksonville’s Hart Bridge leaving downtown when motorist Jason Keiffer lost control of his automobile and swerved into Chris’ big rig. Swerving in the other direction to avoid collision with Keiffer, Chris immediately realized that the safety of the emergency lane was not an option open to him. An earlier accident had caused that lane to be blocked with several stationary vehicles, including a TV news van. To avoid slamming into them, Chris swerved toward the exit ramp to Atlantic Boulevard. His rig was unable to make that sharp turn and he collided with the guardrail. His gas tank exploded into a 50-foot fireball that claimed his life. Chris was 29 years old. Those who witnessed Chris’ split-second decision to put the safety of others before his own later heralded him as a hero. This was little comfort to the stunned and devastated family that Chris Stephenson left behind. His wife Amie was eight months pregnant at the time and they had a two-year-old daughter.
In the legal case stemming from this tragic accident, Partners Howard Coker and Jim Daniel served as local counsel in association with Attorneys Sean Domnick and Lance Block of the West Palm Beach firm Searcy, Denney, Scarola, Barnhart and Shipley. An investigation of the accident and surrounding circumstances led attorneys to determine that a blocked drain had caused water to cover part of the nearby roadway and had been the core cause of the chain of events that lead to Chris Stephenson’s death. The legal team then concluded and asserted in court that the Florida Department of Transportation was the agency responsible for maintaining the drain and carried a major responsibility for the fatal accident. After a seven-day trial, a jury agreed and awarded the estate of Chris Stephenson $3.6 Million.