Attorneys from The Haggard Law Firm secured a nearly $1.57 million verdict for a tourist involved in a car crash, despite medical scans that failed to corroborate an injury and a slew of social media photos showing the plaintiff’s extensive travel after the crash.
Miami trial lawyers Douglas J. McCarron and Pedro P. Echarte III represented Atlanta tourists John P. Souza and Anh P. Souza, whose rental car was hit by a commercial van at around 10 a.m. on Oct. 20, 2014.
The Souzas are avid travelers who posted photographs on social media of luxury trips to the Hamptons, Bahamas, Necker Island and other destinations. That pastime would complicate the litigation, as defense attorneys pointed to the posts as proof John Souza was unscathed after the Miami accident.
“There were a lot of pictures. [The defendants] were trying to make a big deal out of it,” McCarron said. “A lot of times in these kinds of cases, there’s a lot on social media. It’s not something to be afraid of, as long as your clients are being honest.”
The Souzas were headed to Miami Beach before leaving South Florida, but the accident derailed their plans. They were traveling on Northeast 35th Street near Biscayne Boulevard, where defendant Luis Gonzalez hit them with a Chevrolet van belonging to C.H. Global Construction.
The couple sued Gonzalez, accusing him of negligence, and sought to hold C.H. Global Construction liable. Anh Souza also added a claim for loss of consortium.
The defendants admitted fault, conceding Gonzalez made an improper left turn in front of the Souzas. But they disputed the extent of John Souza’s injuries and the amount he claimed for medical expenses.
In a hard-fought case that accumulated 375 docket entries, defense attorneys from Walton Lantaff Schroeder & Carson suggested the plaintiffs exaggerated their injuries, and pointed to John Souzas’ social media posts and travel documents as proof. They presented the couple’s passports, and compared John Souza to Travel Channel personality Anthony Bourdain. Defense counsel then proved that John Souza took 30 international trips and multiple domestic excursions in the three-year period following the accident.
“The Souzas had posted on various social media channels the most extensive travels that I’ve seen anyone participate in,” Walton Lantaff senior partner Michael Jenks said. “It seemed to me to show that Mr. Souza … traveled more than Anthony Bourdain. The guy was just constantly on the go.”
Plaintiffs lawyers acknowledged the couple’s travelogue, but said the posts and trips were a fundamental part of Souza’s social media-related business. They said John Souza never claimed the accident left him unable to travel. What he did claim, though, was that the crash caused two herniated disks in his spine, forced him to have back surgery and left him with cluster migraines requiring expensive cyclical treatments every six months at a cost of about $15,000 per session.
“They never lied or tried to say, ‘I can’t do this or can’t do that.’ All he asked the jury for was ‘Just give me my medical bills so I can live my life,’” McCarron said. “The pictures spoke for themselves. We weren’t afraid of the pictures. He’s got a smile on his face in every picture. Even the picture we have of him right before he was going into surgery has a big smile on his face.”
After about four hours of deliberation, a Miami jury sided with the Souzas, and assigned 100 percent of the blame for the accident to Gonzalez. It awarded nearly $256,500 for past health care expenses, $1.25 million for future medical bills and $60,000 for past pain and suffering. It awarded Anh Souza nothing on a claim of loss of consortium.
That defendants have pending motions for a new trail, including a challenge to introduce a video that shows John Souza dancing for more than 30 minutes at a party after the accident.
“We thought it was significant to the jury to see the guy who was complaining about neck pain and back pain seem to be having a really nice time … dancing for half an hour without stop,” Jenks said.
The plaintiffs, meanwhile, filed a posttrial motion to amend the judgment to recover nearly $3,000 more in past medical expenses.
The case is pending before Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Samantha Ruiz-Cohen.
Case: John Paul Souza and Anh Pham Souza v. C.H. Global Construction LLC and Luis Gonzalez
Case no.: 16-13842 CA 06
Description: Auto negligence
Filing date: May 31, 2016
Verdict date: Oct. 23, 2017
Judge: Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Samantha Ruiz-Cohen
Plaintiffs attorneys: Douglas J. McCarron and Pedro P. Echarte III, The Haggard Law Firm, Miami
Defense attorneys: Michael Jenks, Stephanie Bandy and Joseph Wald, Walton Lantaff Schroeder & Carson, Miami
Verdict amount: $1.57 million