Fort Lauderdale lawyers Zane Berg, Bryan Hofeld and Crane Johnstone of Schlesinger Law obtained a $2.8 million jury verdict for Miami chiropractor David Zucker, after his fourth car accident left him permanently injured and unable to work.
On Dec. 4, 2004, Zucker was traveling northbound on Interstate 95, en route to coach a children’s soccer team in Hollywood. His pregnant wife, Carrie Zucker, sat in the passenger seat as they drove down the far left-hand lane.
At the same time, Juan Chirino, working for fuel supplier Floval Oil Co., steered his 18-wheeler truck along the right-hand lane while Miguel Gonzalez’s 1990 Buick Skylark attempted to merge onto the expressway.
It was a failed attempt. Chirino’s truck hit Gonzalez’s Buick, sending it spinning across three lanes of traffic, directly into Zucker’s path.
“He was in bad shape,” Berg said.
Though Zucker’s wife was unharmed, the crash was the latest in a chain of unfortunate events for Zucker, who had a history of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not only was this Zucker’s fourth car accident, it wasn’t his last. On one occasion Zucker was rear-ended by a drunk driver, and on another he was hit while stationary in a parking lot.
“He’s been very unfortunate with the way that these accidents have shaken out for him, through no fault of his own,” Berg said.
With prior accidents come pre-existing conditions, which can bolster defendants’ go-to argument in personal injury cases — not their fault. Zucker’s insurer, Geico General Insurance Co., claimed none of Zucker’s injuries stemmed from that particular accident.
If Berg and his team could place responsibility on either Chirino or Gonzalez, Geico would be on the hook.
Geico’s lawyers, Paul L. Nettleton of Carlton Fields in Miami and Michael A. Robb of Clark, Robb, Mason, Coulombe, Buschman & Charbonnet in Coral Springs, were unavailable for comment before deadline.
This left the plaintiff lawyers to separate each of Zucker’s injuries and individually link them to corresponding accidents, making medical narratives more digestible, using pictures, diagrams and exhibits.
“Instead of just using the words for these types of procedures, we put them in visual terms for the folks, showed them what is actually taking place, where each of these stimulators or pain pumps are going inside his body, where the scars are, where the various wires and tubes and other devices are going inside his body and how they’re transporting those electronic signals or narcotic medications to the location they need to get to,” said Berg.
According to Berg, the Dec. 4 crash aggravated Zucker’s pre-existing neck condition. He’d had a one-level cervical fusion surgery, which welded two problematic spinal discs together. But thanks to the accident in question, he’d had three more surgeries to fuse different areas of his spine.
The accident also caused Zucker to suffer from various urology issues, according to Berg, which meant he needed two stimulator devices implanted in his body to help his bladder function.
‘Wheelbarrows full of medical records’
“He’s undergone more surgeries than I could possibly count,” Berg said. “It’s been a really serious chain of events that has affected every single aspect of his life.”
On Dec. 4, Zucker’s wife was eight months pregnant with their first son and later had a second, neither of whom have known him without his injuries.
“They’ve only known their father as he’s lived with these injuries,” Berg said. ”It’s not only affected the way he’s able to interact with his children. He can’t go run and play soccer with his kids. He’s lost out on that.”
Zucker had opened his own practice just a year earlier, but had to close it down after the accident. Zucker’s wife has since supported the family and taken him to hundreds of medical appointments.
Berg estimated Zucker has undergone more than 50 medical procedures, including nerve ablations and botox injections, but admitted he’s lost count of the final tally.
“It’s an accident that’s 14 years old with 14 years of medical records, literally wheelbarrows full of medical records and other documents,” Berg said. “It’s definitely a team effort to be able to prepare for a two-week trial where you’ve got a multitude of witnesses coming in day in and day out.”
Read the full verdict form:
Dr. Paul Tocci performed the compulsory medical exam for the defense but his testimony proved useful to the plaintiff at trial, as he traced Zucker’s urology issues to the Dec. 4 crash.
Orthapedic spine surgeon wasn’t so sure about what aggravated Zucker’s cervical spine aggravation. He’d treated Zucker after his Dec. 4 accident, as well as the week before on Nov, 27, following a different accident.
“(The doctor) couldn’t separate out as far as the cervical spine injury goes, what percentage of that injury was caused as a result of which accident,” Berg said. “But suffice it to say that both accidents contributed cause the exacerbation of the cervical spine issues.”
The Miami-Dade jury awarded Zucker $1 million in past earnings and $1.8 million in medical expenses. They found truck driver Chirino 100 percent liable, but let Buick driver Gonzalez off the hook.
Berg allged this was due to a money-saving tactic by the defense.
“Because there was a prior settlement with the truck driver and his company, Floval Oil, it was Geico’s intention throughout the trial to place the blame on the truck driver, so that they can attempt to argue that they’re entitled to some sort of set-off postverdict,” Berg said.
Zucker has since filed a motion for a new trial, arguing that the jury should have awarded future economic damages and found Gonzalez liable. Geico has objected and submitted a settlement proposal.
As far as Berg is concerned, “We’ll see how that shakes out.”
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Case: David Zucker and Carrie Zucker v. Miguel Gonzalez, Juan Chirino and Geico General Insurance Co.
Case no.: 2006-06697-CA-01
Description: Personal injury
Filing date: Apr. 6, 2006
Verdict date: Oct. 18, 2018
Judge: Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jacqueline Hogan Scola
Plaintiffs attorneys: Zane Berg, Bryan Hofeld and Crane Johnstone of Schlesinger Law in Fort Lauderdale
Defense attorneys: Paul L. Nettleton of Carlton Fields, Miami, and Michael A. Robb of Clark, Robb, Mason, Coulombe, Buschman & Charbonnet in Coral Springs
Verdict amount: $2,803,227.93