Close this search box.

Log in

Top Stories

More than 2½ years after he was crushed and pinned by a car lift, Chef Brian Roland’s lawsuit is getting closer to a trial in February 2025—or a possible settlement.

Crave Culinaire founder Roland, 44, an award-winning Southwest Florida chef, was catering an event on Dec. 4, 2021, at Ferrari Naples when he fell through a 22-inch gap on a car lift, plunged to the ground floor and was crushed as it moved downward. The instructions for the car lift, a vertical reciprocating conveyor, clearly stated that it should be installed with a 1-inch maximum gap.

“People are never allowed to ride those under the Florida Building Code,” said Roland’s attorney, Dena Sisk Foman of West Palm Beach, adding that a private provider inspection company inspected the car lift during the pandemic. “They weren’t really doing inspections, coming out and looking. Everything was done virtually and I think that was part of it. … I’ve got a feeling you’re going to see a lot of this. … Safety took a back seat.”

Under the law, VRCs fall under their own national code, exempt from the national elevator code because they’re only to be used to transport materials, not people. Someone would drive a car into the lift and exit the car, use the stairs to meet the lift on another floor and then drive the car out.

“Something like this, I don’t know how anybody missed it,” Foman said of the 22-inch gap, adding that Roland doesn’t remember what happened. “… Ferrari allowed people to ride it and the law is abundantly clear that you’re never allowed to ride (VRCs). … Many vendors used it before Brian fell. Unfortunately, it was an accident waiting to happen. I’m surprised someone didn’t get hurt before this.”

Roland hasn’t been able to work as a chef since then, she said, adding, “One of his restaurants just closed. He lost the contract because he’s not able to work.”

Roland suffered severe injuries, including broken bones and organ damage, was placed under a medically induced coma and underwent numerous surgeries. The accident occurred a month after he and his wife Nicole had a baby girl and shortly after he’d expanded Crave Culinaire to Sarasota, Venice Beach and Siesta Key, which ended after his injury.

Crave Culinaire’s website shows the caterer returned to full service on Jan. 7, 2022, with other employees— trained by Roland and his wife, the co-owner—stepping up into new positions after Roland remained hospitalized. Roland is physically unable to work as a chef, Foman said, and has assumed a more managerial role.

Before Roland sued, Ferrari filed a pure bill of discovery in October 2022, demanding all texts and activity on his phone from 8-10 p.m. the night of the event. Foman didn’t object and Collier Circuit Court Judge Joseph Foster granted that in December 2022.

In April 2023, Roland sued New Country Motor Cars of Naples LLC, which does business as Ferrari of Naples; Snap-On Inc.; Oklahoma-based Autoquip Corp.; Interluxe Group Inc. of South Carolina; Elite Consulting of Southwest Florida, which does business as Elite Permits of Naples; general contractor EnviroStruct LLC of Bonita Springs; and the Collier County Board of County Commissioners.

The county was dropped as a defendant in April 2023 because governments have sovereign immunity from lawsuits, and it issued the Certificate of Occupancy relying on Elite Permits’ inspection of the VRC installation. Collier County had argued that when a private provider is hired to conduct inspections instead of the county or city building official, state law says the government can’t be held responsible.

Roland’s wife and daughter, Remington “Remi,” now 2½, also are plaintiffs under a consortium claim, which involves loss of companionship and how his condition has affected their quality of life.

Industry websites show that VRCs are used instead of a freight elevator when cost is a concern. VRCs cost roughly 75% less, installation is less expensive and due to fewer parts, they require less maintenance.

Court records show: On Dec. 4, 2021, Ferrari was holding a grand-opening party arranged by event planner Interluxe and catered by Roland and his company, Crave Culinaire. Ferrari instructed Interluxe about the planning and execution.

“Ferrari instructed Interluxe that Brian Roland and employees of Crave Culinaire should use the car lift to transport equipment and supplies from the ground floor to the second floor in order to set up and break down for the grand opening party,” the lawsuit says, noting that an Interluxe employee told Roland and his employees to use the car lift.

Ferrari employees demonstrated how to operate the lift and rode it with Roland and his staff before Crave Culinaire set up for the grand opening. Ferrari employees, who were there during the event, which lasted from 8-10 p.m., had shown Roland how to ride the car lift on other occasions.

Roland and his employees used the lift before and after the party. After the party ended, Roland “received specific permission” from Ferrari and Interluxe employees to use the car lift to move his equipment and supplies from the second to the ground floor.

As Roland entered the lift to take down one of the last loads, he fell through a 22-inch gap between the end of the car-lift platform and the wall, landing on the ground floor of the car-lift shaft.

As he lay unconscious, the lift descended and crushed him and pinned him underneath it. He was extracted and transported for emergency medical treatment due to significant traumatic injuries.

“Ferrari should not have allowed Brian Roland or employees of Crave Culinaire to use the car lift because it knew or should have known that the car lift was not designed or intended for passenger use … and Ferrari’s own policy and procedures prohibited passengers from riding on the car lift.”

The lawsuit adds that Ferrari knew or should have known that passengers were not allowed to ride the car lift pursuant to local, state and federal laws, ordinances and regulations, and Interluxe should have known it wasn’t intended for passenger use. The lift also lacked any warnings advising that passengers should not ride it, or warnings about the dangers of riding it.

Autoquip was sued because it researched, designed, tested, developed, manufactured, marketed, advertised, distributed and sold the car lift to Ferrari or Snap- On in Collier County, which sold and/or distributed the car lift. EnviroStruct, the general contractor, oversaw the construction and installation of the car lift, and hired Elite Permits to inspect the property and obtain permits, acting as a surrogate for the county; on April 2, 2021, the county issued the Certificate of Occupancy after an inspection by Elite Permits.

The Autoquip VRC instructions said the lift should be installed with a gap of no more than one inch between the edge of the car lift platform and the wall, so EnviroStruct and Elite Permits should have seen the 22-inch gap, which created a fall hazard.

“Despite this actual and/or constructive knowledge EnviroStruct and Elite failed to correct this defect in construction of the car lift, allowing a fall hazard to exist,” the lawsuit says.

Although the building plans required guardrails, the car lift lacked guardrails to protect passengers from the gap, and at no time were guardrails recommended, purchased or installed. The lift also was poorly lit, creating a dangerous condition for anyone who used it, allegedly causing or contributing to Roland’s fall and injuries.

In its counterclaim, the dealership denied the allegations and argued that its employees never used the VRC as an elevator. It said it wasn’t intended for passenger use. When asked for videotapes, Ferrari said there were no interior cameras, but would provide footage from the parking lot on Dec. 4, 2021, and photos taken by current employees. It said there were no documents showing employees how to train others to use the lift.

In its legal filings, Snap-On said Roland is solely at fault, or others. EnviroStruct, the general contractor that built the lift shaft, said it hired Elite Permits to conduct inspections as a private provider and it signed a contract saying the county wouldn’t be held liable. (State law allows a private provider to do the job of government inspectors to enforce Florida’s Building Code.)

EnviroStruct said the gap was “an open and obvious condition that led to a patent defect” that Ferrari should have known existed when it finished the work, and that Ferrari specifically instructed the architect to move the gate housing to the building’s interior for a sleeker Ferrari aesthetic.

“This modification resulted in the 22-inch gap, which (Ferrari) not only knew about, but caused themselves and should never have been an issue considering this was a car lift, not meant for human passengers,” EnviroStruct argued.

EnviroStruct also pointed out that the law says it can’t be held responsible for injuries that occurred after Ferrari inspected the obvious gap and accepted the completed work, and that it followed Ferrari’s design plans. Courts have found that when a contractor follows designs and plans prepared by or for the owner, EnviroStruct said, it can’t be held liable, and it would never have known people would be using the lift.

Autoquip has argued that Penney Design Group LLC negligently designed the space that allowed a 22-inch gap and that Automotive Design Group (ADG) negligently installed the VRC; neither are defendants. Several defendants also alleged other defendants are liable, including Roland.

Court records show settlement talks occurred last June and this January, but this year’s settlement offers were withdrawn on Feb. 29.

On May 20, Roland’s attorney disclosed her 10 expert witnesses, including a VRC inspector; medical experts, including neurology, orthopedics, life care planning and pain management; economics and forensic accounting; a mechanical and civil engineer; and a general contractor.

Other defendants also disclosed dozens of witnesses, including safety and health experts, OSHA, Collier County Sheriff’s deputies, party attendees, defendants’ employees, the Rolands, Collier County EMS, doctors, surgeons, Johns Hopkins Hospital, NCH and Lee Memorial Health System.

The trial is set for Feb. 17, 2025. Foman said Roland suffers from pain and organ damage, some injuries are irreversible and others won’t manifest for years. “He’s got diminished capacity in a lot of ways that will make him susceptible to disease earlier than (others) would be,” she said, adding that the VRC weighed several tons. “He’s very lucky to be alive.”

This story was published in The Naples Press on June 7.

Copyright 2024 Gulfshore Life Media, LLC All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without prior written consent.

Don't Miss

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

Please note that article corrections should be submitted for grammar or syntax issues.

If you have other concerns about the content of this article, please submit a news tip.