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A jury awarded $164 million to a severely brain-damaged Miami man who was hit by a car while walking on the Watson Island bridge when he was 16, but a pretrial agreement will shrink the payment to $5 million. Jaro Hladik and his family agreed to a “high-low” settlement guaranteeing $5 million regardless of the verdict. Miami lawyer Arthur Tifford, who tried the case in Miami-Dade Circuit Court with his daughter and law partner, Alexandra Tifford, said he does not regret making the deal with attorneys for Sunrise, Fla.-based Bob’s Barricades. “You had to do that for the protection of the family,” Tifford said after the verdict was reached Thursday. He was still pleased with the sizable verdict. “This was twice as much as we had sought. The jury was angry.” Miami attorney James Usich, lead attorney for the state’s biggest barricade company, angrily called the verdict “insignificant.” He said his company did nothing wrong. “It’s outrageous,” he said. “This was not based on facts. It was based on sympathy. This was a tragic accident which should never have happened. But the fault lies entirely with the driver, who was on cocaine and marijuana.” Hladik, then a 16-year-old Homestead, Fla., Senior High School student, was walking his bike on the bridge while heading home from a 60-mile ride in April 1999. The sidewalk on the bridge linking I-395 and the MacArthur Causeway was closed for construction, so Hladik was in the emergency lane. A car driven by Marie Louise Delgado plowed into Hladik from behind in the breakdown lane, leaving him in a coma for five months. He is now 96 percent disabled, is confined to a wheelchair and has the mind of a 7-year-old, according to Tifford. In August 2000, the negligence suit was filed with the court on behalf of Hladik and his mother, Patricia McKinney, against the barricade company, the Florida Department of Transportation and the Redland Co., the Homestead-based general contractor on the road project. Tifford claimed the companies should have erected warning signs for pedestrians and should have provided a pedestrian pathway on the bridge. “If there had been a barrier wall there, it wouldn’t have mattered if a driver went across the emergency lane, pedestrians would have been protected,” Tifford said. Redland and the state settled last year for undisclosed amounts, Tifford said. Testimony in the 11-day trial before Senior Circuit Judge Herbert Stettin included video depositions of three doctors and photos of the accident scene. Hladik was also introduced to the jury. The jury deliberated for three hours, awarding Hladik $1.4 million for past medical expenses, $13 million for future medical expenses, $4.2 million for 60 years of lost earnings, $5 million for past pain and suffering and $90 million for future pain and suffering. Jurors also awarded McKinney, the mother, $50 million. Jurors assigned 30 percent liability to Bob’s Barricades, 25 percent of Delgado, 20 percent to FDOT and 25 percent to Redland. Tifford has a pending suit against Fortune Insurance Co., which represented the owner of the car driven by Delgado. The Miami woman pleaded guilty to reckless driving in January 2002. Traces of cocaine and marijuana were found in her system, but Tifford said the lab lost her urine sample, so prosecutors would have had trouble pursuing more serious charges. Usich called it “deplorable” that Delgado didn’t face stiffer charges. “That’s what’s wrong with the system today,” he said. “She got a $300 fine.” Usich’s co-counsel were Steven Kellough of South Miami and Richard Warren of Miami. Usich declined to say whether the Bob’s insurer would pay the settlement. “That’s irrelevant,” he said.

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