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Miami-Dade Circuit Court jury has awarded more than $50 million to a Marine veteran from Plantation who was paralyzed in an automobile accident while driving home from work in 1998. The jury deliberated just two hours Tuesday before granting Frederick Wilson, his wife, and six of his eight children $50.1 million as compensation for medical expenses and economic losses. In rendering its verdict, the jury found the driver of the other vehicle, 29-year-old Ronald Bottex of North Miami, liable for negligence. Wilson, 49, suffered a broken neck and collarbone and brain hemorrhage. He spent more than a year in the hospital after the accident. He is now a paraplegic in need of constant care. Bottex was also critically injured in the accident and suffered permanent disability. “The details of what this has done to his family are almost beyond comprehension,” said Wilson’s attorney, John Uustal, who works with prominent personal injury lawyer Sheldon Schlesinger in Fort Lauderdale. “This is not the situation of someone who got a very high verdict for some minor injury,” said Uustal. The trials, before Judge Barbara Levenson, lasted two days. The jury awarded Wilson $883,000 for past medical bills, $19.5 million for future medical expenses, $211,000 for lost earnings and $1.5 million for future economic losses. They also gave him $16 million for pain and suffering. His wife, Norma, who quit her job as an AT&T customer service representative to care for him, received $3 million for past and future lost consortium. Six of their eight children, who were minors at the time of the accident, each received $1.5 million for lost consortium. “Their whole lives were spent trying to keep him alive,” Uustal said. The accident occurred at 6 a.m. on July 4, 1998, when Wilson was driving home after working the night shift at CSX Railroad. As Wilson crossed the intersection of Northwest 151st Street and 27th Avenue in Carol City, Bottex’s car slammed into him, broadsiding Wilson’s 1990 Chevy pickup truck and throwing him from the vehicle. During the trial, a witness, Willie Jennings, testified that Bottex ran a blinking red light and was driving without headlights. The jury also heard from Wilson, who detailed the misery he and his family have suffered since he lost full use of his arms and legs. “This guy is a former U.S. Marine who served in Vietnam,” Uustal said. “He didn’t get up there and whine.” But Wilson did tell the jury about the humiliation of being paralyzed and the burden he felt to his family. On the defense side, Bottex testified that he had gotten off work at Pizza Hut at 2 a.m. and had given a waitress a ride home because her car had broken down. He had just left her house when the accident occurred. Bottex said he didn’t remember what he had been doing during the four hours before the accident and didn’t recall the crash. Bottex spent months in a coma and suffered brain damage. He now lives on disability payments. Bottex’s attorney, Frederick Pasternack, a solo Miami practitioner, argued that Wilson should have used more caution at the intersection because he entered with a blinking yellow traffic signal. Pasternack also denied that it was dark when the accident occurred, or that his client was driving while impaired. Pasternack declined comment on the verdict. In his initial complaint, filed in June 1999, Wilson also sued General Motors, the maker of his pickup truck, and TRW Inc., the manufacturer of his seat belt, for product liability. Wilson claimed the companies were liable for damages because the seat belt, which he claimed he was wearing at the time of the accident, was defective and did not restrain him from being thrown from his vehicle. Wilson received an undisclosed amount in settlements with GM and TRW. Uustal said the settlement agreements were confidential. In terms of collecting the judgment against Bottex, Uustal said the defendant had auto insurance at the time of the accident. But he’s also hoping to obtain money from the winnings of a product liability suit in which Bottex is the plaintiff. Bottex, who was driving his girlfriend’s Honda Civic, filed suit against the car manufacturer earlier this year because his air bag allegedly did not deploy. The suit is still pending. “We fully intend to collect the verdict,” Uustal said.

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