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Jury Awards Millions to Widower in Premises Liability Lawsuit

The widower of a woman who was killed by a drunk driver at a Fort Lauderdale resort in 2012 was awarded millions of dollars in damages by a jury. Michael DeMella was awarded $24 million in compensation by the jury and assigned 15 percent liability, or $3.6 million, to the Riverside Hotel in his wrongful death case. This verdict comes more than three years after the passing of Mr. DeMella’s wife, Alanna, who was seven months pregnant at the time of her death.

Facts of the Case

In 2012, the DeMellas were in Fort Lauderdale for a two-day marriage conference that was won at their home church in Massachusetts. They were staying at the Riverside Hotel and at the time of the accident were out at the pool. Alanna DeMella was sitting a cabana by the pool and Michael was inside of the restroom just a few feet away when a drunk driver crossed the sidewalk, jumped the curb, and crashed into the poolside cabana.

The force of the crash killed Alanna and their unborn child, a son that was supposed to be named Joshua. The accident only caused Michael minor injuries that he was treated and released for that day. The driver of the vehicle was Rosa Rivera Kim, 37, of Plantation, who had more than three times the legal limit of alcohol in her system at the time of the crash. She has since pled guilty to two counts of DUI manslaughter and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Arguments at Trial

Michael filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the hotel and Ms. Kim in 2012. He was present throughout the trial, and Alanna’s mother testified in court. Mr. DeMella argued that the hotel knew of the growing danger caused by the road near the pool cabanas. He claimed that the hotel should have built a barrier between the premises and the road to protect guests. The cabana where Mrs. DeMella was sitting at the time of the accident was in a particularly dangerous spot just off of a sharp curve in the road near the property with no protection from passing cars.

Mr. DeMella also argued that the Riverside Hotel was liable for his wife’s wrongful death because the administration knew that there was an increase in the volume of traffic on that road caused by motorists attempting to pass another busy street. Oftentimes, drivers would speed down this particular stretch of road far in excess of what the road could handle. “This was not just your average road and this was not a freak accident. In the two years before this accident, the hotel recognized a serious problem with the sharpness of the curve. The road was referred to by hotel management as a race track.”

Reactions Regarding the Verdict

A representative for Ms. Kim was unable for comment following the verdict that held her 85 percent liable for the wrongful death accident, now owing Michael DeMella $20.4 million in damages. A spokesperson for the Riverside Motel told the media that “This was obviously a very tragic accident and first and foremost, we offer our condolences to the family. The jury properly found that the lion’s share of responsibility should be placed on the drunk driver who caused this accident.”

However, the hotel plans on appealing the verdict, stating that “we remain confident that the hotel has no legal responsibility for this accident caused by that drunk driver. We look forward to working through the legal process to overturn the jury verdict. It would be inappropriate to comment further on a matter still pending in court.” The hotel has 30 days from the time of the verdict to file any type of motion with the appellate court to review the verdict.

For Michael DeMella, his attorney told the media that he felt as though both the criminal and civil justice systems worked in this case. The drunk driver was held criminally and civilly responsible, and the hotel was held liable for their lack of action in this case. He felt that the jury got the verdict right when determining the amount of damages in this case.

Florida Wrongful Death Law

In Florida, wrongful death lawsuits are governed by the Wrongful Death Act. Under the law, Fla. Stat. 768.18 – 768.26 define the rights of action, parties, damages, forms of verdicts, and protection of those affected by the wrongful death case. The purpose of the act is to shift the liability for the death from the loved ones affected to the person or parties that caused the accident.

The Wrongful Death Act states that a wrongful death occurs when a person dies because of the negligence, wrongful act, default, breach of contract, or warranty of another person. In this type of lawsuit, only certain people are allowed to file a case against the wrongdoers. The law provides that a “survivor” may bring the case, and these people include the deceased person’s spouse, children, parents, blood relatives, adopted family members, or anyone related to the deceased that relied upon them for support or services.

However, there is only a certain amount of time in which to file a wrongful death lawsuit after an accident. Florida law demands that this type of lawsuit be filed with the court within two years from the date of the accident. Known as the statute of limitations, if the case is not filed within this time period, then the loved ones of the deceased will be barred from pursuing damages against the responsible parties.

Our Attorneys Can Help

Call the office or contact us today at any of our firm locations in Orlando, Tampa, Fort Myers, Jacksonville, or West Palm Beach for a free and private review of your wrongful death claims. Our experienced attorneys at The Pendas Law Firm understand how stressful this time can be and are here to help get you the full and fair compensation that you deserve.

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