An underground utility firm contracted by the City of Vero Beach for work along A1A and other parts of town has come under fire after two island residents filed separate lawsuits alleging negligence on the job.
Attorney Douglas Tuttle, of Tuttle Law in Vero Beach, recently filed a complaint blaming the Jensen Beach company, Coastal Drilling and Backhoe, for a May 2016 bicycle accident.
His client, William Borrow, was riding his bicycle northbound along the state road near the intersection of Bahia Mar Road when he ran into a pipe and fell over, injuring himself, the attorney claims.
The equipment had been placed across the sidewalk by Coastal Drilling.
“Coastal Drilling failed to follow FDOT regulations regarding work zone safety requirements and sidewalk conditions,” the attorney said. “Coastal Drilling should have blocked off the sidewalk with a barricade and provided signage, indicating that the sidewalk was closed.”
The company “owed a duty to users of the sidewalk, including the Plaintiff, to exercise due care while working,” his lawsuit alleges.
The accusations came just five months after Vero Beach residents Dr. Keith Kalish and his wife Beth made a similar allegation.
Attorney Brian Connelly with the island firm Gould Cooksey Fennell claims in court documents that Dr. Kalish was jogging west of Coastal Drilling’s workspace near the 900 block of A1A in September 2016 when he tripped and fell.
A coiled steel cable had been left partially lying on a public sidewalk, causing Dr. Kalish to suffer a serious injury, writes the lawyer.
At no point did Kalish enter into the work space of Coastal Drilling, Connelly says in the June 27 filing. He, too, adds that the company had a duty to keep the area surrounding its work space free from hazard, and to provide proper warnings to the public.
“Defendant Coastal negligently created, maintained and/or inspected the work space and immediate surrounding area, which resulted in a dangerous condition,” he writes.
While an attorney for Coastal Drilling has yet to respond to the most recent complaint, documents show the company denies wrongdoing in the Kalish case. Both families are seeking damages in the 19th Judicial Circuit.
Attorneys Shelli Healy and Benjamin Bedard with the West Palm Beach firm Roberts, Reynolds, Bedard & Tuzzio say Coastal Drilling is not to blame for Kalish’s injuries.
Any work area was “open and obvious” and the accident in question was “unforeseeable,” their filing says. “If Plaintiff Keith Kalish suffered any damages as a result of the matters alleged in the Plaintiffs’ complaint, it is the result of other persons, firms or corporations.
“The cable plaintiff alleges to have tripped over . . . was the responsibility of the City of Vero Beach at the time of the alleged incident.”
Coastal Drilling’s attorney Benjamin Bedard did not respond to a request for comment, but the company’s co-owner said both complaints made against the firm were false and that the company is now considering filing counter lawsuits.
“It was due to their negligence,” said Dawn Yelton. “There were safety cones and everything else up. These people are looking for money.”
Yelton noted that the bicyclist was elderly and riding on the sidewalk instead of in the bicycle lane on the roadway. He drove through construction cones and hit a construction pipe, she said.
In the second case, Yelton continued, the jogger was running in the dark and was not looking ahead
Coastal Drilling has been working in Vero Beach for some 15 years, she said.
The company specializes in directional drilling and has machinery that can bore holes deep in the ground without requiring costly and inconvenient excavation, said Rob Bolton, director of water and sewer for the City of Vero Beach. Its technology and services help link residential septic tanks to the city’s sewer system. Other departments contract with the firm to install underground electric lines.
City records obtained by 32963 showed that since 2010 the company has been paid over $2.4 million for services.
“They have always been a good company for us. We’ve never had any issues with them,” Bolton added.