Judge Awards $80 Million for Woman's 'Slow and Painful' Death

A judge in Albuquerque awarded $80 million to the husband of a woman who died while trapped in her vehicle after a tractor-trailer hauling sand fell from an overpass onto her car.

The wrongful death lawsuit was filed 10 years ago by Jose Miera, whose wife, Laura, was killed on October 2, 2002. Named as defendants in the suit were Albuquerque Redi-Mix and its owners, John B. and Barbara Quintana.

Laura, who was 48 years old, died when a truck owned by Redi-Mix and operated by Truman Bahe drove off an interstate overpass, landing on Miera's car and trapping her inside as sand poured into the vehicle.

According to court documents, the truck Bahe was driving had an expired registration and its brakes were in disrepair. In addition, Bahe had received two prior DWI charges before being hired by Redi-Mix.

Counselors, teachers and students from the school where Miera had just dropped off her daughter tried to dig Miera out of her vehicle by hand, but she eventually suffocated.

Jose Miera's attorney said that the Quintanas filed for bankruptcy protection just one week after the family filed the wrongful death lawsuit.

A default judgment was entered on Friday after only one of the defendants, Barbara Quintana, showed up for court last week despite a court order that they appear.

District Court Judge Shannon Bacon awarded $16.74 million in compensatory damages, as well as $2 million to Miera's daughter and $1 million to Miera's husband for loss of companionship. She also awarded $60 million in punitive damages for willful misconduct that "endangered and continues to endanger the public at large, and caused the slow and painful death of Laura Miera."