Florida Wheelchair Van Injury Victim Seeks Compensation from County


After a South Florida man was diagnosed with a neurological condition, he was forced to use a wheelchair on a daily basis, but he tried not to let it get him down too much. He still went to work every day, took his dog for walks, went to the grocery store and enjoyed spending time with his family at home.

But was stripped of that independence, he said, when he boarded a paratransit bus using a service the county farmed out to a private entity. What he didn’t know was the lift used on that van to raise wheelchairs onto the vehicle was defective, and had been recalled several weeks earlier by the manufacturer. The operator, Allied Medical Transport, had been notified of the defect, but had yet to fix it and did not warn customers of the problem either.

On that day in April 2012, plaintiff backed his wheelchair onto the lift as he was boarding it to head home from work. But the lift malfunctioned. Plaintiff fell backward onto the ground. He suffered a traumatic brain injury, as well as a broken vertebrae. He is now a quadriplegic. He requires 24-7 care, which his family cannot provide, so he is forced to live in a nursing home.

His legal battle for compensation, according to a recent story by NBC Miami, has been long and arduous, but has met with some success. Though, it’s not over yet.

The ultimate goal, the family says, is to secure the funds necessary to return him home and provide for full-time medical care, so he can once again reside with his family, including his wife of 37 years.

The transport company conducts some 450,000 trips annually in Broward County, and for this service, the county pays the private company about $14 million. For many disabled people who cannot afford their own personal paratransit operation, this is the only option.

One of the first actions the family took was against the manufacturer of the wheelchair lift. It had been recalled almost exactly one month prior to the accident due to a safety barrier that was defective. Even though the manufacturer issued a recall, it could still potentially be held liable. However, the lawsuit was dismissed in favor of a confidential settlement the family reached out-of-court.

Secondly, the family sued AMT. The paratransit company had received the recall notice. In fact, it had received some of the necessary parts to repair the problem two days before the accident. However, it hadn’t yet fixed the lift on the van used by plaintiff. But neither did it pull the van from service.

After a legal battle with the company’s insurer, the insurance company finally agreed to pay plaintiff $500,000, which was the maximum allowable under the auto liability portion of the insurance policy. However, the family sought more, and the following year, a circuit judge approved a $10 million judgment against the AMT, paving the way for additional compensation. The family is now suing the paratransit company directly in federal court, alleging the firm dealt with them in bad faith, a claim the company denies. That case is pending.

The family is also pursuing legal action against the county. Although a private company was operating the vehicle at the time of the accident, the family asserts the county is ultimately responsible for the negligence of its contractors.

If jurors agree, the county could pay a statutory maximum of $300,000 – more if the state legislature approves an additional sum.

This South Florida injury case reveals the many avenues plaintiffs may have for recovery in the event of an accident resulting in catastrophic injuries. It’s important for victims to contact an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible.

If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at (561) 347-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.

Additional Resources:

A Horrible Fall, a $10 Million Judgment and a Family’s Search for Justice, March 31, 2015, By Tony Pipitone, NBC Miami

More Blog Entries:

Florida v. Dorsett – Hit-and-Run Legal Standard Toughens, March 10, 2015, West Palm Beach Injury Lawyer Blog