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On March 29, 2001, Alicia Bustos, then 78, was a passenger in the back seat of a Buick eastbound on East 25th Street in Hialeah, Fla. As the driver attempted to make a left turn, the Buick was hit by a Ford Explorer going west. Bustos, who was wearing a seatbelt, sustained a crushed chest, a ruptured aorta, liver lacerations and multiple fractures. The accident left her ventilator-dependent, requiring physical and occupational therapy for the rest of her life. Bustos and her husband sued the driver of the Explorer, Lazaro Leiva, and his employer, Dyke Industries Inc., a lumber wholesaler. The defendants countered that the driver of the Buick was to blame for “making a left turn in front of our driver,” said defense counsel Patrick Knight. The plaintiffs’ team argued that Leiva had to have been distracted. “He slowed at the red, then as it turned green, accelerated right through her car,” said plaintiffs’ counsel Michael Andrew Haggard, noting that there was no physical evidence indicating that Leiva applied his brakes. “We knew a jury would ask why.” At his deposition, the plaintiffs asked Leiva if he had a cell phone. Leiva said he did, but only used it after the accident to call 911. His phone records told a different story. “It showed that 46 seconds before he called 911 he was on a phone call.” Confronted with this fact, Leiva recalled that he had made a “brief” sales call after the accident but before he called 911. The phone call at issue was 74 seconds long. “We showed just how long that was,” Haggard said, recalling that he stopped questioning and had the jury watch the clock for 74 seconds. The long silence harmed Leiva’s credibility. “No one would have made a sales call for 74 seconds while this woman was bleeding,” Haggard said. On Dec. 14, a Miami jury awarded the plaintiffs $20.98 million. The claim that Leiva was using a cell phone was “a red herring,” and served only to confuse the jury, said Knight. But there will be no appeal. Five days after the verdict, the case settled for $16.1 million, plus $83,000 in court costs, Haggard reported. Plaintiffs’ attorneys: Michael Andrew Haggard and William Andrew (Andy) Haggard, Haggard, Parks, Haggard & Bologna, Coral Gables, Fla. Defense attorneys: Daniel Draper and Patrick Knight, Kubicki Draper, Miami.

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