Case: Ana Lukacs v. Irma Estrada

Case no: 112007CA05313

Description: Auto negligence

Filing date: Dec. 27, 2007

Jury trial: Oct. 9-10, 2012

Judge: Collier Circuit Judge Frederick Hardt

Plaintiff attorney: Steven B. Phillips, Pincus & Currier, West Palm Beach

Defense attorney: Curtright C. Truitt, Curtright C. Truitt P.A., Fort Myers

Jury award: $4.2 million

Details: Ana Lukacs, then 46, was riding her motorcycle to work at UPS when a van allegedly driven by Juan Estrada crossed in front of her and sideswiped her on westbound Golden Gate Boulevard in Naples on June 26, 2007. The bike fell to the ground, and she broke her left foot and ankle. She underwent external fixation surgery to repair the fractures, but two days later the leg had to be amputated below the knee. Lukacs was fitted with a prosthesis.

Plaintiffs case: Lukacs’ counsel, Steven Phillips, told jurors Estrada, then 19, was the driver and left the scene of the accident.

Lukacs testified she saw the van weaving back and forth before the accident, which happened about 3:30 a.m.

“She actually pulled over into a driveway to avoid being hit by him,” Phillips said.

But before she could reach safety, the van owned by Estrada’s aunt clipped her. “There were yellow paint marks down the side of the van that matched the motorcycle,” Phillips said.

He said Estrada, who he later discovered had been drinking beer and taking Xanax, was found sleeping in the van on a dirt road about a mile from the accident scene. Estrada told paramedics and hospital workers who treated him that he had hit a median and drove to the end of the dirt road.

Phillips said Estrada changed his story when police interviewed him days later about the accident, saying he was not the driver.

UPS fired Lukacs after she used up her medical leave and could not return to her part-time job, Phillips said. Her union fought to reinstate her, and she got a job that does not require physical labor a year later. The accident occurred just months before she was due to be promoted to a full-time driver position, he said.

In February Lukacs and her husband, Iosif, divorced. The amputation was not a direct cause of the dissolution, Phillips said. “It just added strain to the relationship,” he said.

The trial lasted two days.

“I don’t mess around, man,” Phillips said. A longer proceeding “bores the jury. It causes them to lose interest.”

He urged jurors to “do the right thing” during an abbreviated closing. “One of the jurors just looked at me and shook his head yes,” Phillips said.

Defense case: Defense attorney Curtright Truitt did not return phone calls for comment by deadline.

Estrada claimed he was not driving the vehicle at the time of the accident. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. said its coverage of the van was limited to $50,000.

Outcome: The jury awarded $2.25 million for past and future pain and suffering, $1.03 million for past and future medical expenses and $872,100 for past and future lost earnings. It added $76,800 in punitive damages.

Comments: “You could tell they were going along with us. The jurors became very emotional when she testified,” Phillips said, calling the verdict “a very fair result.”

Post-verdict: Truitt filed motions for remittitur and to declare a mistrial. A hearing is scheduled for January. Phillips said he is pressing a bad-faith claim against the insurer. “State Farm has basically said we offered the $50,000 timely,” he said.