Record Setting Verdict in Tractor Trailer Crash

Jill Grant cannot recall the morning six year ago, when a semi-trailer truck crushed her car like a cheap toy, critically injuring her and forever changing her life.

“I can’t even remember what happened yesterday, or what I had to eat,” Grant, 40, said on Friday, the day after a Broward Circuit Court jury decided she should receive $7 million from truck driver Denver Wayne Burtz of Plant City and his employer, Publix Super Markets.

Grant was driving south on Florida’s Turnpike near the Delray Beach toll plaza about 5 a.m. when she was hit from behind by Burtz’s truck, which was loaded with frozen pies. The truck hit her car a second time, pinning it against a guardrail.

There were no witnesses to the accident, so Grant’s lawyers, Scott Schlesinger, and truck accident lawyer Robert Kelley, hired a physics professor, Arthur Paskin, to reconstruct the accident on a Cornell University computer.

Details about the crash, such as the damage to the vehicles and the location of paint chips, were entered into the computer, and a computer-graphic simulation of the crash was shown on a video screen to jurors.

“We know of no other time when a computer was used to actually show a jury what went on,” Schlesinger said.

“There’s no question it was persuasive,” Kelley said.

Rex Conrad, the attorney for Burtz and Publix, said, “It’s no better than the opinions of the people who program it.”

Paskin said the Cornell computer has been used in three other trials since 1984, when it debuted in a Bronx, N.Y., trial in which a man was acquitted of four manslaughter counts involving a car crash.

Conrad said he will ask for a new trial.

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