Attorney: UF student families could receive millions after traffic deaths

The families of two UF students killed in recent traffic accidents near campus could receive millions in damages after filing separate lawsuits last week in the Eighth Judicial Circuit of Florida.

“I don’t know that you could put a number on it,” attorney Andrew B. Yaffa said in a phone interview with Mainstreet Daily News. “How do you put a price tag on the loss of a child and shattered lives?”

The Coral Gables law firm Grossman Roth Yaffa Cohen filed the suits a day apart on behalf of the parents of Sophia Lambert and Margaret “Maggie” Paxton, who were UF students when they died in separate incidents as pedestrians on West University Avenue in December and January.

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“These parents are devastated,” Yaffa said. “They are emotionally and physically destroyed.”

Some local outlets reported the families were seeking $100,000 judgments, but Yaffa said that is only the minimum number.

“A jury could be justified in granting millions and millions of dollars—and they routinely do,” Yaffa said, citing a $37 million judgement the firm won for the family of a 12-year-old Florida girl who died in a 1997 traffic accident. That case hinged on the negligence of Florida Power Light Company, and the families’ attorneys argue negligence is again at play in the recent Gainesville incidents.

The first suit, on behalf of parents Lawrence and Julie Lambert, names as defendants Uber and driver Benjamin Piper, who was delivering food for Uber Eats at the time of the accident. The suit also names Boris Stoyanov, driver of the second car, and Veselin Stoyanov, owner of the second car, as defendants.

The complaint alleges Piper was driving at a high rate of speed to get through a stoplight when he collided with Stoyanov, who pulled in front of him making a turn. The ensuing collision sent Piper’s 2007 Honda Civic sliding onto the sidewalk, where Lambert was struck and thrown 30 feet through the air into a brick bench, the complaint says.

The plaintiffs allege that all four parties named in the suit were negligent in some way, but Uber is listed first. That’s because it bears the most responsibility, Yaffe said. The complaint says Uber’s methods of operation promote distracted driving and that Piper was not properly vetted or supervised.

“[Uber] knew or should have known that appropriate and timely training, observation, and supervision, would reveal that Defendant Piper was not qualified, had not received sufficient training, and was not properly supervised or observed in performance of his work at Uber Eats,” the complaint says.

The jury is entitled to allocate damages based on the portion of wrongdoing by each party, but Yaffa said the defendant order listed on court documents reflects the order of responsibility: Uber, Piper, driver Stoyanov, owner Stoyanov.

Grossman Roth Yaffa Cohen filed the second suit on behalf of parents James and Lisa Paxton, whose daughter was killed in a hit-and-run incident on Dec. 9. The complaint alleges that Miguel A. Figueroa was driving at a high rate of speed on West University Avenue when he struck and killed Maggie Paxton, who was in a marked crosswalk area. It says he then fled the scene and tried to conceal his damaged car.

The deaths have sparked a wave of community advocacy, including a Facebook group called Gators Against Student Pedestrian Deaths that has attracted more than 2,500 members who are advocating for safety measures. The city and university police departments have launched a joint police traffic enforcement initiative, but many want the state to turn over control of a section of West University so the city can enact more substantial changes.

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