A Palm Beach County jury today was asked to award $14 million to the parents of a 9-year-old who was killed in 2011 when he was hit by an 81-year-old driver as he and his father were bicycling past the Villas on the Green condominium complex in Jupiter.
Attorneys who are representing the condominium association and its management company agreed the parents of Andrew Curtis deserve to be compensated for their enormous loss. But, attorney William Price said, giving Andre Kovacs and Tracy Curtis $1 million each should help them rebuild their lives that were shattered when their son died.
“When bad things happen to good people the best thing is to help them get through it,” he said of why he recommended that the jury award them money to get the help they need.
The only thing both sides agreed on during closing statements was that driver Helen Bygel was responsible for the crash. Even her attorney Patrick Flanagan said she she admits she was partially to blame.
However, while attorneys representing the parents said she bore some responsibility, those representing the condo association and MMI of the Palm Beaches, said the accident was completely her fault.
“She looked left and never looked back right,” said attorney Dan Britto, who also represents the association and the management company. Had she looked to the right, she would have seen Andrew, who was seconds behind his father on his bike.
During an emotional day when the attorneys recapped evidence before the jury began deliberations, the closing statements brought the parents, Bygel and many in the courtroom to tears.
Attorney Greg Barnhart, who represents the parents, said the lion’s share of the blame belongs to those who maintained the complex on U.S. 1 just south of Indiantown Road. Both the condo association and the management company ignored state and local rules, turning the intersection of the sidewalk and the development’s entrance road into a death trap.
“It was a trap waiting to be sprung and the victims that day were Andrew Curtis, his dad and Mrs. Bygel,” he told jurors.
Had they followed rules that dictate how high hedges should be and the height and location of stop signs, the accident would have been avoided, he said. Bygel would have seen the boy. Andrew today would be 11 and his parents would be watching him grow up instead of grieving the worst loss parents can suffer, Barnhart said.
Kovacs, of Jupiter, and Curtis, who lives in Port St. Lucie, have never recovered. Both have been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and major depression.
“It’s blackness. It’s despair. It’s sorrow beyond belief,” Barnhart said defining the depths of the parents grief.
A psychiatrist testified that the two will need years of psychotherapy to live any semblance of normal lives. While the loss of a child is devastating to any parent, it is worse when the loss is sudden, violent, mutilating, untimely and unjust, Barnhart said, quoting psychiatrist Dr. Michael Hughes.
“You can’t bring Andrew back, but you can bring justice,” Barnhart told the jurors.