Highway Accidents — Florida: The Michelle Cardenas Story

Steve Murphy: On Sept. 27, 2007, at 4 o' clock in the afternoon, 27-year-old Michelle Cardenas, a popular middle school teacher was driving home in her Honda Civic on a four lane rural major highway entering Hialeah, Florida. Parked on the right shoulder was an 18-wheeler truck driven by Rigoberto Machado hauling a load of plants from South Miami to various Walmarts. Machado, without warning, illegally did the unbelievable. He pulled a U-Turn across the divided, double-lane highway causing Michelle's car to unavoidably smash into the undercarriage of his 18-wheeler ripping the entire car's roof off its hinges. Today, the Insider Exclusive presents the true story of the miraculous courage of Michelle Cardenas and how her lawyers Stewart Greenberg and Mark Stone, partners at the law firm of Greenberg Stone & Urbano got justice for Michelle by clearly proving the discrepancies in the truck driver's testimony and by demonstrating the correct and safe driving procedures for turning 18-wheelers around. It has earned them the highest respect from citizens and lawyers alike as one of the best plaintiff trial lawyers in Florida and in the nation. They have seen many innocent, hardworking people suffer needless injury and because of that they are driven to help those who have been harmed by the negligent actions of others. Their goal: not only to get justice for Michelle but to make America's highways safer and trucking companies and their insurance companies much more accountable.

Hi, I'm Steve Murphy and this is the Insider's Exclusive live from Miami, Florida, at the law firm of Greenberg Stone & Urbano.

TITLE OF VIDEO: Highway Accidents- Florida- The Michele Cardenas Story

Steve Murphy: It is my great privilege to introduce Stewart Greenberg and Mark Stone to the show. Welcome to the show.

Stewart Greenberg/ Mark Stone: Thank you Steve.

Steve Murphy: Tell us a little bit about your firm.

Stewart: Our firm handles catastrophic, personal injury claims where people have either been injured or have lost a loved one through the negligence of another whether it be a trucking accident, whether it be a medical malpractice case, an airplane disaster, a motorcycle accident, car crash, cruise accident, things of that nature.

Steven Murphy: Basically, little guy against big guy, right...the David and Goliath kind of cases. Now, today we're going to be talking about a rather horrific case; an 18-wheeler case with Michelle Cardenas. Tell us a little bit about this case?

Stewart: This is a tragedy. We represent a very young lady in her mid-twenties who was a school teacher on her way home from school on a Friday afternoon, minding her own business, doing nothing wrong, when an 18-wheeler decided to make U-turn across a 4-lane divided highway and her car went underneath the back of the trailer, came out the other side with its top ripped off. She was airlifted to the Jackson Memorial Hospital, Ryder Trauma Center...

Steven Murphy: She was knocked out in that accident.

Stewart: She was unconscious and she had a glass glaucoma scale of 7. Which 15 is normal. 7's survivability is probably under 20%-25%.

Steve Murphy: Explain to our audience what that means.

Stewart: The paramedics and doctors have certain tests they do on someone in the field and in the hospital to see about how alert they are neurologically and a 7 is a very low score on that scale and as a result she's got permanent brain damage.

Steve: What has been the result of pursuing this case?

Mark: Well, in terms of the results of the client, fortunately we were able to reach a settlement on her behalf which should enable Michelle to get a great deal of her life back. Unfortunately, she has a diffuse axonal injury which is an injury to the axons which is structures, microscopic structures, between the gray and the white matter. Once their ripped or torn they don't repair themselves. So, we feel fortunate that we were able to get her a sum of money which is going to allow her to regain some normalcy in her life.

Steve Murphy: Right. As a result of this accident she can no longer teach.

Stewart: That's correct.

Steve Murphy: Will she have the capability of teaching?

Stewart: She probably, according to our experts, is really unemployable. She can only handle very menial tasks, right now, she helps out with the family business but her ability to stay focused...her executive functions have severely been compromised.

Steve: We have with us today both her, as well as her dad, in the studio and I'd like to bring out her dad first so we can talk a little bit about the challenges that they as a family face and her. So, let's do that right now.

Steve: It's my great pleasure to introduce Gabriel Cardenas, the father of Michelle. Welcome to the show.

Gabriel Cardenas: Thank you.

Steve: Take us back to that day, when you first heard that your daughter was involved in this horrible accident and had been airlifted to the hospital. What were your thoughts as a father?

Gabriel: It was very painful because in this case we did not know what had happened. The hospital could not reach us until about 10 o'clock at night and the phone rang in the neighbor's house; he came over to our house and knocked on the door really loud, like in a panic. We did not know what had happened or if something was wrong with him. As it turned out, he just said that Jackson Hospital had called and that Michelle was there and we needed to go there immediately because Michelle was involved in an accident but they won't tell you anymore on the phone or anything. So when we went into the Emergency, actually it wasn't the Emergency, it was the Life Resuscitation area where she was. We saw her there all strapped with all kinds of wires. It was very painful. She was in a coma, completely. She was gone several times. But we were lucky that she came out of it little by little. That was the beginning...

Steve: How long did it take so that she was kind of conscious?

Gabriel: No, it took several days before she was conscious. And even then she seemed to be conscious but she didn't remember anything in the hospital which was like 3 ½ weeks but she was in this resuscitation area for close to 36 hours I believe

Steve: When you say she didn't remember anything in the hospital what are the things she didn't remember?

Gabriel: Nothing. It's hard for her to remember...

Steve: Did she remember who she was?

Gabriel: Well, when she was in the hospital they would ask her the requirements necessary so that she could be moved out of the resuscitation area into emergency then into the brain injury wing, was that she had to respond to her name: What's your name? Also, to try to remember what day it was. It took her like 3 days before she could guess what day it was, where she was. Of course, she was sleeping or knocked out for the first few hours.

Steve: As a father, not being able to do anything it must be very painful, excruciatingly painful.

Gabriel: It's very, very difficult to go through that pain. You see your dream, your daughter there... very difficult...that some nut went around and did some stupid thing, carelessly, and has ruined her life. And you sit there and you can't do anything about it. You know and these people didn't call to see how she was. Never! Not in the hospital or at home, during these 3 years. Never! How's Michelle? Never! Very sad...

Steve: Stewart was the extent of her brain injuries?

Stewart: The doctors consider them moderate to severe and Michelle has been remarkable. She's worked very, very hard with her Mom, with her dad, with her sister, and with her brother to get back as much function as possible. But she'll never be the same, unfortunately. This has changed her life forever.

Steve: She was a middle school teacher.

Gabriel: Yes, she was a specialist in literature, English Literature.

Steve: She loves literature. I was talking to her before the show and she was saying her favorite author was Virginia Wolfe.

Gabriel: She loves writing poems.

Steve: Now she cannot teach anymore but she works with your family business?

Gabriel: Well, she helps a little bit...she doesn't really work a lot because she still has a lot of problems due to her brain injury. One of the problems she has is short-term memory loss. So, she'll forget things that happened yesterday or things that happened a few hours ago. She'll keep asking me how to do something that she'd do every day.

Steve: Is she able to go places by herself?

Gabriel: Right now, we drive her around ourselves. We don't want to her to drive yet. She can function partially well. The main thing is some of the problems she has with her brain is she has problems with concentration. It's hard for her to concentrate.

Steve: We have her with us in the studio and we're going to bring her on right now. It is my great pleasure to introduce Michelle. Welcome to the show, Michelle.

Michelle: Thank you.

Steve: What an ordeal. Your dad was talking about how he felt as a father. I could understand perfectly what he was saying. Take us back to that day, the day of the accident. Do you remember anything about it?

Michelle: Absolutely nothing.

Steve: Nothing. You don't even remember approaching the truck or anything?

Michelle: No.

Steve: And what are your first remembrances as you were in the hospital.

Michelle: I was in the hospital for about a month and I only slightly remember about the last two days and that's very, very vague.

Steve: Did you know why you were in the hospital?

Michelle: From what they told me that I was in an accident. Only from what people were telling me, I don't remember anything that happened.

Steve: Now that you realize what had happened to you, what do you understand about what happened to you as a result of this accident?

Michelle: As the result of this accident I have brain trauma.

Steve: And what does that mean exactly to you?

Michelle: What do you mean, exactly?

Steve: I mean how has it affected you?

Michelle: In so many ways, I mean I don't even know where to begin.

Steve: Okay, you were a middle school teacher before, in literature, right?

Michelle: Yes.

Steve: I think some of your kids sent you cards like this one. You want to hold this up for the camera. It reads "We miss you, Ms. C," is that right?

Michelle: Yeah.

Steve: You remember teaching?

Michelle: Yes.

Steve: What do you miss about it?

Michelle: That's like when they told me that I couldn't teach...that was the worst thing they could have told me, ever. That was just the worst thing ever. It wasn't necessarily what I had gone to school for. I had gotten a degree in English Literature. The first job that was offered to me was this teaching job. I was in the process of getting certified but it was definitely my vocation. I loved it and when they told me that it was something I couldn't do because of the brain trauma that was something that really struck me. It was horrible, horrible.

Steve: What was the best thing you liked about teaching?

Michelle: It was just being able to reaching young minds.

Steve: Open them up to good literature...

Michelle: Exactly, yes, and I guess because I am so young I had a connection with them and they were able to learn in different ways. Just the fact that I can't do that now is just the worst.

Steve: Do you sometimes think that maybe in the future you might be able to do this?

Michelle: I hope so. There are a lot of people that defy...

Steve: Right, you are a miracle, aren't you?

Michelle: Right.

Steve: I think your dad was saying it's truly amazing what happened. We've seen the pictures and our audience have too of what happened to your car and the roof... was gone, totally gone.

Gabriel: Yes.

Steve: Your lawyers recently settled the case. What's your opinion of your lawyers?

Michelle: The best!

Steve: Yeah, you know because no one wants to take responsibility here, do they? The trucking company, like you said, hasn't called in 3 years. I watched the deposition of the truck driver and at one time he broke down and I couldn't figure out if it was because he had lost his job or because he caused this accident, you know?

Gabriel: He was very unconcerned.

Steve: You look like you're thinking. What are you thinking about?

Michelle: Oh, I was just thinking about this man who had totally changed my life and he never even once thought...

Steve: Rigoberto Machado. Never thought at all... did you watch those depositions?

Michelle: No, but I was there, for my depositions I mean. Like at the mediation, he was there, and...

Gabriel: We spare her the pain of watching some of this. Even the car pictures; she hasn't seen those, at all.

Michelle: No, thank God.

Gabriel: We've kept them away from her and the lawyers have them.

Steve: Well, you are an amazing individual. I'm glad you were able to spend some time with us today. You inspire other people, no matter what happens to them they know they'll always have a shot. And I want to thank you very much for spending your time with us. They're amazing clients, aren't they?

Stewart: They are.

Steve: She is an amazing individual and I can understand that she inspired you to win this case. Tell us how you won the case.

Stewart: We won it with a lot of hardwork. We really won it because of her. We won it by getting the best experts, by doing animations, by interviewing witnesses, and by forensically showing how this accident happened.

Steve: Now, the key person in this was the truck driver on the defense's side and fortunately you did a lot of video depositions. We're going to show a few of them. For example, he admits that he made an illegal turn.

Stewart: What does it say about making right turns from the right shoulder or making U-turns from the right shoulder of the road?

Rigoberto Machado(Translator): Well, that's illegal.

Stewart: So, the move that you were making was illegal.

Rigoberto Machado (Translator): It can be done but you shouldn't do it.

Steve: Also, I was amazed when you asked him in this deposition whose fault it was and he said what?

Stewart: He blamed my client. He blamed Michelle.

Steve: And we have a certain segment of that and we'll show that right now.

Rigoberto Machado (Translator): I myself don't consider myself to be at fault for this accident.

Stewart: Who do you consider to be the cause for this accident?

Rigoberto Machado (Translator): The girl who crashed.

Steve: They're position from the beginning was that it was her fault. Wasn't it?

Stewart: Yes.

Steve: How did they figure that? Was that just their position because they didn't want to pay or what was the rationale?

Mark: Well, Steve, yeah I think they didn't want to pay but ultimately I think what it came down to was that she was so badly injured that she had no recollection of the accident. And I think at the end of the day they wanted to use that against her. In other words, she wasn't able to explain what she did to avoid the accident and that's what they were going to try to rely on and fortunately it didn't work.

Steve: Now this case was settled.

Stewart: Correct, on the eve of trial.

Steve: On the eve of trial. And how long had the preparation been from the date you got the case to the date of trial?

Stewart: It was exactly 3 years from the date of the accident. We didn't get the case for a month. The parents were too concerned about their daughter than to even hire a lawyer. We had two trial dates previously and at the last moment the defense got emergency continuances. So we would have been ready to go 18 months after the accident but we were put off that long.

Steve: Now, that seems a little unfair to your client where they get continuances that extend it, 18 months?

Stewart: Yes.

Steve: Well, why does the judge go along with that program?

Mark: Well, unfortunately, it's delay, delay, delay.

Steve: But how many times can they delay it? You're smiling...

Stewart: As many as they can, as often as they can.

Steve: Doesn't a judge step up or something and say you know something, this is too many delays?

Stewart: Well, understand that judges have over a thousand cases. They have just with the foreclosure crisis in Miami-Dade County some 6,000 cases. Their calendars are booked and we try to fight for trial dates, actually. In this case, we claimed we had a 3-week trial with a lot of witnesses and we needed to go.

Steve: So, the foreclosure crisis is causing a crisis for getting other cases heard.

Mark: Sure, it's just caused an influx of cases of litigation into the court system.

Steve: The insurance companies know that...

Mark: Sure, and they use that to delay and put off settlements.

Steve: Now you said it was settled on the eve of trial. Tell us that day what happened.

Stewart: I got a call from an adjustor Friday afternoon and basically we spoke all weekend long and on Sunday we finally resolved the case.

Steve: They came back with an initial lowball offer.

Stewart: They lowballed this case literally till 11:59pm.

Steve: On Sunday evening.

Stewart: On Sunday evening.

Mark: It was the day before trial.

Steve: And on 11:59pm you were talking to the lawyers on the other side.

Stewart: Just about, yeah.

Steve: Okay, now, words have been exchanged on the telephone, how do you know the next morning you're going to wake up and they're going to recall the conversation or they're going to disclaim they never said it. When do you get things in writing?

Stewart: We went in front of the judge the next morning and went on the record and asked for the settlement, how much, and the terms of the settlement.

Steve: And this is a confidential settlement.

Stewart: That's correct.

Steve: And so the judge gives you how long to draw it up so our audience understands...

Stewart: We drew it up that day.

Steve: And part of the settlement is that they have to pay within a certain period of time.

Stewart: Correct. That's part of terms of the settlement agreement.

Steve: And obviously they paid.

Stewart: They paid and our client has been funded.

Steve: But there are people who write up settlements that don't pay within that period of time.

Stewart: We've had it this year. We've had to go to court a number of times to enforce settlements where we get attorney fees, costs and interest, for making them pass.

Steve: Yeah, well you guys did an outstanding job and I'm glad you did because Michelle's a great person so is her dad. And thank you very much for being on the program.

Stewart: Thank you for having us.

Mark: Nice to be here.

Steve: Thanks for joining us. You can find more information about our guest and the issues at InsiderExclusive.com. To schedule a Free Consultation with Greenberg Stone & Urbano, call 888-499-9700 or 786-408-8973. You can visit us at www.sgglaw.com.