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Judge awards $80M, 10 years after woman's 'slow and painful' death

ALBUQUERQUE, Dec. 11 (UPI) -- An Albuquerque judge awarded $80 million in the wrongful death of a woman who was trapped in her vehicle when a tractor-trailer hauling sand fell on her.

District Court Judge Shannon Bacon's judgment Monday ended 10 years of litigation and includes $60 million in punitive damages, the Albuquerque Journal reported Tuesday.

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The woman, Laura Miera, 48, died Oct. 2, 2002, when the truck owned by Albuquerque Redi-Mix and driven by Truman Bahe launched off an interstate and landed on Miera's vehicle, pushing it to the curb before it rolled over and trapped the women inside as sand poured onto her.

The lawsuit said the truck had an expired registration and three brakes out of adjustment, while Bahe had two DWI charges before he was hired by Redi-Mix.

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Jacob Vigil, Miera's family's attorney in the lawsuit, said counselors, teachers and students on their way to school where she just dropped off her daughter began trying to dig Miera out by hand. A school counselor grabbed Miera's hand and told her to keep moving it as she prayed with her until Miera's hand stopped moving.

Barbara Quintana, an officer and owner in Quintana Enterprises and Albuquerque Redi-Mix with her husband, John B. Quintana, told the Journal Monday she hadn't seen the judgment and referred any other requests comments to her attorney, whom she did not name.

The defendants have been represented by numerous attorneys in the years since the accident, Bacon and Vigil said.

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Vigil alleged the Quintanas tried to avoid paying the family, even filing for bankruptcy protection a week after the wrongful death lawsuit was filed.

"They [the Quintanas] spent all their money on law firms, paying them to fight this family," Vigil said. "My heroic little client, 14 when it happened, was an A student. She dropped out of school, hit rock bottom ... . It just wrecked this family."

The judgment Bacon entered Friday noted the defendants had been represented in the case by "a multitude of attorneys" and failed to show up for trial last week despite being ordered to do so, except for Barbara Quintana, who appeared under subpoena.

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Bacon entered a default judgment on liability, then calculated damages after hearing testimony Friday, the Journal said. She awarded compensatory damages to the estate of $16.74 million, $2 million to Miera's daughter and $1 million to Miera's husband, Jose, for loss of companionship.

Bacon ordered $60 million in punitive damages against Albuquerque Redi-Mix, Quintana Enterprises, and John and Barbara Quintana.

The record, Bacon said in the order, showed that the conduct of the Quintanas and their corporations was willful and "endangered and continues to endanger the public at large, and caused the slow and painful death of Laura Miera."

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