Thomas Joseph Heike lived a full life before it was cut short by a fall down a defective stairwell, where he suffered fatal traumatic injuries to his head and cervical spine. He was a father, grandfather and great grandfather, despite being just 61 years old at the time of his passing. He also spent what little free time he had volunteering at his church and participating in food drives all over South Florida. Shortly after his untimely passing, his family contacted the Law Offices of Wolf and Pravato seeking answers. Immediately, we retained an engineering expert and traveled to the scene of the tragic fall.
After exhaustive investigation and research, it became clear the tragedy which claimed the life of Thomas Heike could have been easily avoided. As we alleged and would later establish in Court as a matter of law, the stairwell which claimed Tom Heike’s life was unfit for use. What made the stairwell even more dangerous was that the defects identified by our expert would not be observable to an untrained individual. We were able to prove that the stairwell was not built to code, was not properly permitted, was lacking required safety fixtures and fell well below the statutory standards regarding habitability. Once the Court determined fault, our next step was to present this tragedy to a Broward County jury for a determination of damages. Based on the Wrongful Death Statute in Florida, the only legal survivors were Tom’s four sons, who sought compensation for the loss of parental companionship, instruction and guidance, as well as for pain and suffering related to their father’s passing.
At the close of trial, after about two (2) hours of deliberation, the jury awarded each son $500,000, and awarded the Estate of Thomas Joseph Heike $11,000 for medical and funeral expenses. Following trial, lead counsel Brett Yonon was asked what this 2 Million Dollar verdict meant: “Seeing the family’s reaction as the verdict was read aloud in Court is something I will never forget. Nothing will erase this tragedy or bring Tom Heike back, but if his family felt even a small measure of justice from this verdict, we did our job.” In addition to the very personal impact this case has had on the Heike family, our broader hope is that the substantial verdict will serve to encourage property owners across South Florida to follow all safety regulations and guidelines when building or improving any residential property.