Law360 (December 12, 2019, 6:56 PM EST) --
A Texas jury on Wednesday awarded $18 million — including $10 million in punitive damages — to the widow of a trucker and handyman who died after falling through a rotting roof where his employer had asked him to replace translucent skylight panels. The jury in San Patricio County, immediately north of Corpus Christi, unanimously agreed with Denise Marez, the widow of trucker Juan Perez, that I&R Trucking, owned by Isaac Rodriguez, was negligent when it asked Perez to do construction on the roof on March 7, 2015.
Perez was given no safety equipment on the 12-foot-high corrugated metal roof, which also had translucent "skylights" made of a plastic/fiberglass material, according to Marez's lawyers, John Duff and Alex Hilliard of Hilliard Martinez & Gonzales LLP. Perez could not see from the outside that parts of the roof's steel I-beam supports were rotted away, they said, whereas I&R's owner was supposedly well aware of the rotting, which was visible from underneath.
Though the $18 million award was less than half of the more than $40 million the two asked the jury to award, Duff and Hilliard told Law360 Thursday that a "very, very conservative jury" unanimously delivered the verdict because they were "enraged" by what the lawyers called lies told by the defense at trial. Those lies were allegedly first developed between the time Perez fell, supposedly a bit after 6 a.m., and the time I&R contacted police, supposedly around noon.
"They were coming up with a concocted, false story about what they were going to tell the police, what they were going to tell the [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] investigators, which was that Mr. Perez was actually not an employee and that he was trespassing at the time of the incident", Hilliard said. "In trial, they tried to argue the same thing." I&R's lawyer did not immediately respond to an email or a phone call seeking comment.
The verdict included $4 million for Marez's past mental anguish and $2 million for future mental anguish, $1 million for Perez's pain and mental anguish "up to the time of his death", $250,000 for loss of consortium, $250,000 for past pecuniary loss, and $500,000 for future pecuniary loss. Perez had worked for I&R for 17 years, Duff and Hilliard said, and was often called on to do odd jobs besides driving trucks. He was called the night before his death and told that the next day he would be needed to go up on the roof of the building in question in Mathis, Texas, and replace a roof panel, which was 25 years old and severely "rotted and damaged," the attorneys said. The roof gave way "like it was paper," and Perez fell through the panel, they said, onto a concrete floor 12 feet below.
The jury found I&R had known there was an "unreasonable risk of harm", one that the company didn't take ordinary care to protect Perez from. It also found Perez was an employee of I&R.
Marez is represented by John Duff and Alex Hilliard of Hilliard Martinez Gonzales LLP.
I&R is represented by Joel H. Thomas.
The case is Marez v. I&R, case number S-17-5182-CV-B, in the 156th District Court of San Patricio County, Texas.
Read more at: https://www.law360.com/trials/articles/1227671/tru...