MIAMI – A civil jury decided Friday that one of the nation’s largest outdoor advertisers must pay a family $65.1 million for the electrocution of their 12-year-old boy at a bus stop shelter that was built and wired by the company.
The body of Jorge Luis Cabrera was found Oct. 12, 1998, lying against the shelter. The family’s attorneys said Cabrera was electrocuted when he stepped on an electrical conduit at the bus stop.
After a day and a half of deliberation, the six-member jury decided Eller Media Co. must pay $4.1 million in compensatory damages and $61 million in punitive damages.
“They created an electrical death trap that even a defense witness admitted was only safe when it was not on,” said attorney Ervin A. Gonzalez.
An attorney for Eller Media didn’t immediately return a phone message Friday seeking comment.
But Eller Media and one of its workers were cleared in a 2001 criminal case charging them with the boy’s death. They said the boy was likely struck by lightning on the rainy night of his death.
In the criminal trial, Eller Media employees invoked their 5th Amendment right and didn’t testify. But they were forced to testify during the nine-week civil trial.
“The critical part was that the jury was able to see the entire case,” Gonzalez said. “The key players that did the shoddy electrical work were forced to testify.”
Co-counsel Bob Martinez said the family was somber, but “this is the best memorial they could have for Jorge.”
The night he died, Cabrera had sneaked away from home after arguing with his mother and stepfather. His body was found the next morning, lying against the shelter.
Phoenix-based Eller Media’s parent company is San Antonio-based Clear Channel Communications, the nation’s largest radio broadcaster.
A spokesman for Clear Channel Outdoor didn’t immediately return a phone call Friday.