SINTON – After nearly five years, a Mathis widow is finding closure after her husband, Juan Perez, died on March 7, 2015, after falling through a skylight while repairing a roof for I&R Trucking in Mathis, owned by Isaac Rodriguez.
On July 1 Hilliard Martinez Gonzales announced that a San Patricio jury handed down a unanimous verdict awarding $18 million in damages, including $10 million in punitive damages, to the widow Denise Marez. The three-day trial was held in the 156th District Court of San Patricio County with Judge Patrick Flanagan presiding. The jury deliberated for two hours before returning their verdict.
Court documents stated that jurors unanimously agreed with Marez that I&R Trucking was negligent when it asked Perez to do construction on the roof back on March 7, 2015. The courts also said that Perez was given no safety equipment on the 12-foot-high corrugated metal roof, which also had translucent skylights made of a plastic/fiberglass material, according to Marez’s attorneys, John Duff and Alex Hilliard of Hilliard Martinez & Gonzales LLP. Perez could not see from the outside that parts of the roof’s steel I-beam supports were rotted away, but attorneys said I&R’s owner was supposedly well aware of the rotting, which was visible from underneath.
According to attorneys, Perez had worked for I&R for 17 years and was often called on to do odd jobs besides driving trucks. He was called the night before his death and told that the next day he would be needed to go up on the roof of the building in question and replace a roof panel, which was 25 years old and severely “rotted and damaged,” the attorneys said. The roof gave way “like it was paper,” and Perez fell through the panel, they said, onto a concrete floor 12 feet below.
“With no regard for the life of Juan Perez, the defendant sent him to work on a roof with no fall protection equipment and no warning of the dangerous rusted condition which caused Perez to suddenly fall through the roof, over 12 feet onto the concrete where he was pronounced dead at the scene,” Attorney John Duff said.
“This verdict shows that a simple man, a laborer, who worked faithfully for 17 years, coming to work every day at 5:30 a.m., making seven dollars an hour, has value. His life and what he means to the woman he loved and who loved him, has worth. “
Attorney Alex Hilliard added, “The defendant thought of him as expendable, like a piece of machinery…The jury agreed with us that this was an entirely preventable tragedy.”
Though the $18 million award was less than half of the more than $40 million the two asked the jury to award, Duff and Hilliard said that a “very, very conservative jury” unanimously delivered the verdict because they were “enraged” by what the lawyers called lies told by the defense at trial.
“They were coming up with a concocted, false story about what they were going to tell the police, what they were going to tell the [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] investigators, which was that Mr. Perez was actually not an employee and that he was trespassing at the time of the incident,” Hilliard said. “In trial, they tried to argue the same thing.”
The jury found I&R had known there was an “unreasonable risk of harm,” one that the company didn’t take ordinary care to protect Perez from. It also found Perez was an employee of I&R.
The verdict included $4 million for Marez’s past mental anguish and $2 million for future mental anguish, $1 million for Perez’s pain and mental anguish “up to the time of his death,” $250,000 for loss of consortium, $250,000 for past pecuniary loss and $500,000 for future pecuniary loss.
Paul Gonzales is a reporter at The News of San Patricio and can be reached at 361-364-1270, or by email at email@example.com.