Aloia, Roland, Lubell & Morgan, PLLC
A verdict that sends a powerful message to a corporate giant!
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A verdict that sends a powerful message to a corporate giant!

On December 21, 2017, in a Lee County courtroom, a jury found Florida Power & Light (NextEra Energy Inc. NYSE symbol NEE) liable in the wrongful death by electrocution of Justin Dominguez. My fellow law firm partner, Ty Roland, and I actually won two verdicts in the case that day. One to award Justin's mother, Tricia, compensatory damages for the pain and suffering that she experienced at losing her fifteen-year-old son when he was electrocuted in 2011, and a second award designed to punish FP&L for their gross negligence in preventing the young boy's death. This second award, called punitive damages, was designed to powerfully persuade this near $17 billion corporation to follow its own vegetation management policies.

It is rare in Florida, for even experienced litigators, to argue for punitive damages in a negligence case. The burden of proof for punitive damages, called clear and convincing evidence, is significantly more difficult to establish and prove, than the proof needed in the typical personal injury case.

Mr. Roland and I produced an insurmountable amount of supporting evidence, including incomplete work orders, photographs and FP&L's own internal policies and procedures that led the jury to deliberate less than thirty minutes and award Mrs. Dominguez $15 million in punitive damages.

Justin died when the bamboo stalk that he was climbing struck a 13,000-volt high power line. This line was thirteen times more powerful than the typical residential electric line. FP&L's own records indicated that the utility knew the bamboo posed a life-threatening hazard, yet they did nothing to remove the bamboo even after Justin perished from electrocution. Finally, several days after the trial, (almost ten years' time) FP&L sent a legion of equipment and personnel to remove the bamboo from the neighborhood where Justin died playing with siblings and cousins.

While it is likely that FP&L will appeal this decision, (which is, of course, their legal right) and the eventual outcome is uncertain, the verdict that we received in this case has changed the behavior of a perennial Fortune 200 corporation almost overnight. Dangerous bamboo is now being removed all across Lee County; which may prevent a future tragedy but is unfortunately too little, too late for Justin and his family.

- Evan D. Lubell, Esq.

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