FPL ordered to pay nearly $24 million in Fort Myers teen’s death

12:04 p.m Saturday, Dec. 23, 2017 Local
Florida Power & Light’s new Category 5-resistant Jupiter Service Center in Jupiter, Florida on December 13, 2017. FPL will use the facility during storms to provide a secure location for dozens of staff members and contractors to ride out a storm and pre-stage equipment for restoration efforts.(Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

A Lee County jury on Wednesday ordered Florida Power & Light to pay nearly $24 million in connection with the 2011 electrocution death of a Fort Myers 15-year-old.

The jury ordered the Juno Beach-based utility to pay the mother of Justin Dominguez $8.75 million in compensatory damages and $15 million in punitive damages, said West Palm Beach attorney Julie Littky-Rubin.

Littky-Rubin assisted Fort Myers attorneys Ty Roland and Evan Lubell, who represented the boy’s mother, Tricia Dominguez.

The utility had been warned by its own inspectors in 2008 that bamboo near the family’s home was too close to power lines and should be removed, Littky-Rubin said. Three years later, Justin was climbing the bamboo when it hit the electrical wires. He sustained catastrophic injuries and died two weeks later in a hospital after he was declared brain dead and removed from a ventilator, she said.

During the five-day trial, a company official testified that the company still hadn’t removed the fast-growing, spindly trees, which are known for being good conductors of electricity, she said.

“I know FPL does great things, but this was bad,” Littky-Rubin said.

In a statement, FPL officials said: “We extend our thoughts and prayers to the Dominguez family during this difficult time. We disagree with the jury’s decision and are evaluating further legal options.”

Littky-Rubin said she expects the company will appeal.

The verdict brought a measure of relief to Tricia Dominguez, who has moved with her two remaining children to Iowa, Littky-Rubin said. “She was so upset that they didn’t care about her son,” Littky-Rubin said. “She felt vindicated.”

The mother and son were unusually close, the attorney said. When Tricia Dominguez got a job at McDonald’s that required her to get up at 4 a.m., her son would walk the mile with her to work from a house they shared with relatives.

Still, the jury agreed the youth was partially responsible for his own death because he decided to climb the bamboo.

While finding FPL was 70 percent to blame, they ruled the teen was 30 percent at fault. That meant the $12 million that jurors awarded in compensatory damages was reduced by 30 percent to $8.75 million. The assignment of fault had no impact on the $15 million awarded in punitive damages.

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