FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) — The Riverside Hotel, a well-known Fort Lauderdale hotel, is being told to pay more than $3.5 million dollars to a man whose wife was killed by a drunk driver in an accident at the hotel’s pool cabana.
The attorneys for Michael Demella, husband of the victim Alanna, told jurors that the street behind the Riverside Hotel was in the words of the hotel general manager — a “racetrack.” The attorneys say the hotel knew the dangers well before March 2012 when a drunk driver slammed into the pool cabana killing Demella who was seven months pregnant with the couple’s unborn son.
Three years after the crash, Michael Demella can scarcely verbalize the depth of his loss.
“She was an amazing woman and words can’t,” he said, trailing off. “I would fall short with words to explain Alanna.”
But on Tuesday evening, Demella says he and his lawyers received a glimmer of good news.
Attorney Brad Edwards says a jury awarded Demella more than $24 million dollars for his suffering. The jury ruled that the drunk driver, Rosa Rivera Kim, was largely responsible for the deadly crash. Kim, who had a blood alcohol level 3 times the legal limit, is serving 15 years in prison. The jury also ruled that the Riverside Hotel was partially responsible to the tune of more than 3.5 million dollars.
“It does give me some closure,” Demella told CBS4’s Carey Codd on Wednesday.
Attorney Edwards says the hotel knew from studies and from watching traffic that speeding and unsafe drivers were a persistent problem on Sagamore Street or SE 4th Street which runs behind the hotel and in front of the pool cabana.
“Many of those people speed in excess of 50 miles per hour on a regular basis,” Edwards said.
Edwards says he uncovered emails showing that back in 2011 — months before the crash — the hotel’s general manager sent an email to a Broward County Commissioner referring to Sagamore Street as a “racetrack.”
“The hotel recognized that danger to the point that they were writing emails to the county commissioners saying hey, we have a speed problem that’s posing a serious danger to our guests,” Edwards said.
But Edwards says other than putting up an illegal stop sign the hotel did nothing. Demella and his lawyers hope the verdict causes the hotel to put safeguards in place.
Demella says he received support far and wide after the tragedy and he wants to focus his efforts on helping people like him, who lose spouses at an early age.
“It’s been three years and hopefully I can be in a position to help people because I’ve been though it because I know what they’re going through,” Demella said.
The hotel issued a statement on the verdict saying, “This was obviously a very tragic accident and first and foremost, we offer our condolences to the family. The jury found that 85% of the responsibility should be placed on the drunk driver who caused this accident. We remain confident that the Hotel is not liable for this accident caused by that drunk driver. We look forward to working through the legal process to make sure the fault is properly assessed to the driver and not to the hotel. It would be inappropriate to comment further on a matter still pending in Court.”