Florida firefighter's widow wins $9 million verdict in pizza delivery death
Domino's Pizza plans to appeal
BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – In January 2011, retired Brevard County Fire Rescue District Chief Richard Wiederhold swerved to avoid a collision when a Domino's Pizza delivery driver turned in front of him on State Road 50 in Christmas.
Wiederhold's Toyota Tacoma overturned on the highway — rendering him a quadriplegic with a fractured spine, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.
He died from medical complications 15 months later. After a lengthy legal battle, an Orange County jury awarded his widow, Yvonne, a $9 million verdict in mid-June.
The court case continues. Last week, Circuit Judge Renee Roche denied a request for a new trial by attorneys representing Domino's Pizza. The company is preparing to appeal the $9 million judgment, said Yvonne Widerhold's attorney, Mark Avera, a partner with the Gainesville law firm Avera & Smith.
"He was dependent upon a ventilator to breathe. Being rendered a quadriplegic when you're in your retirement and in your twilight years, enjoying life. ... I have represented clients such as Rich over the years — and to describe it as catastrophic is really inadequate," Avera said.
"To go from being able to do anything he wanted to do — flying planes, running marathons as a younger gentleman, hike, camp, enjoy his life with his fiancée, Yvonne — and to go to being bed-bound and be totally dependent on others," he said.
Wiederhold served with Brevard County Fire Rescue from 1988 to 2005, retiring as a district chief overseeing nine fire stations across the southern part of the county. He was one of six finalists in the city of Cocoa's 2007 fire chief job search.
Previously, he was paramedic program director at Seminole Community College. He started his career as a firefighter-paramedic for the Reedy Creek Fire Department — which serves Walt Disney World properties — and the Winter Park Fire Department.
After the 2011 crash, Wiederhold spent the next month at Orlando Regional Medical Center, followed by four months at the Shepherd Center, a rehabilitation hospital in Atlanta. He and Yvonne got married at a courthouse in Valdosta, Georgia, during the drive back home to Orlando.
Yvonne Wiederhold became her husband's primary caregiver until he died of pulmonary embolism in March 2012, Avera said.
"I look at it like he died in March, on March 2nd, but he really died in January (2011). That's when he died, and he started to deteriorate," Yvonne Wiederhold said during a 2013 deposition, court transcripts show.
"I could see his bones. Like, I could look at his beautiful hands, and I could see them starting to cave in. I could see his chest starting to cave in. I mean, he was deteriorating. But he still looked awesome to me. I mean, I loved the man, you know," she said.
Yvonne Wiederhold declined an interview request.
Messages seeking comment were left for Orlando attorneys Richard Womble and Christine Zharova, who represented Domino's Pizza during the trial.
"They have already taken steps to appeal the jury's verdict. We view the evidence, and what was presented to the jury, as (having) no reversible error in the record," Avera said.
"So we don't think the appeal has merit. But it is certainly their right to ask the District Court of Appeal to look at it," he said.
The jury found Jeffrey Kidd, a driver employed by a Bithlo Domino's Pizza franchisee, was 100 percent responsible for Wiederhold's death. Wiederhold was wearing a seat belt, Avera said.
The verdict included $8 million for Yvonne Wiederhold's pain and suffering, $863,057 for medical and funeral expenses, and $114,732 for accommodations after the crash, including home alterations.
On July 8, Avera filed a motion requesting that Domino's Pizza pay Yvonne Wiederhold's attorneys' fees and costs incurred since December 2014. He noted that she had proposed a $2 million settlement twice, in 2014 and 2016, but the company rejected both overtures.
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