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Jury's verdict is $64.5 million in construction accident at Mosaic Co. site

Published Mar. 31, 2015

TAMPA — A Hillsborough County jury has awarded $64.5 million to a man who was seriously injured when a building collapsed while he worked at a Mosaic Co. construction site in 2009.

Robert Matthews was 25 when an 11,000-pound prefab building fell on him, crushing his pelvis, legs and internal organs.

The jury's decision, handed down Friday, found three companies responsible for the accident, but assigned the vast majority of the blame to Mosaic, a large fertilizer maker that operates throughout Central Florida.

The other companies involved were Semco Construction, which was hired by Mosaic to prepare the construction site at a Polk County phosphate mine, and Mark Rice Inc., the construction company paid to install a prefab building on the site. The injured construction worker was working for Mark Rice Inc. at the time of the accident.

Though the jury's award was sizable, Matthews, 30, will not receive exactly that amount.

That's because although three companies were implicated, the decision applied to only one — Semco Construction — which the jurors found bore 15 percent of the responsibility for the accident. As such, Semco must pay Matthews about $10 million, which includes attorney's fees.

Jurors found Mosaic 75 percent responsible for the building's collapse. But because Mosaic paid Matthews and his attorneys a confidential sum to settle the case in 2014, the company is not bound by the jury's award. Whether the amount Mosaic paid Matthews comes close to the figure he would have received had he taken the company to trial is unclear.

"Mosaic didn't get to walk. They took responsibility," said attorney Steven Yerrid, who represented Matthews. He declined to discuss the details of the settlement with Mosaic, including whether the company admitted any fault in the accident.

Neither Mosaic nor Semco officials responded to a reporter's request for comment. Despite the jury's decision, Semco's attorneys have asked Hillsborough Circuit Judge Rex Barbas to declare a mistrial. They are also petitioning Barbas to disqualify himself, a request they made earlier in the case without success.

Matthews had been working underneath the building when a train went by the construction site, causing the ground to vibrate, and the entire building to shift and slide toward him. Yerrid said initially, doctors didn't believe Matthews would live. But he lived, and though doctors didn't believe he would walk, he walked.

Yerrid said Matthews is working toward a masters degree in business administration.

Contact Anna M. Phillips at aphillips@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3354. Follow her @annamphillips.

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