BOBBY, DIANE AND DEDRA
(MOTOR VEHICLE ACCIDENT)
Bobby, his wife Diane and their 18 month old daughter Dedra were moving the last load of furniture to the family’s new apartment. Bobby’s best friend, Ronnie, was helping. Bobby was driving, Ronnie was sitting in the front passenger seat, Diane was sitting in the middle with Dedra in her lap. As they drove through an intersection, suddenly, and with absolutely no warning, a large commercial truck traveling at a high rate of speed slammed into the driver’s side of their vehicle. Bobby was knocked unconscious when his head hit the driver’s side door. The force of the impact was so great, Ronnie’s door was jarred open and he was thrown into the street. The rear wheels of Bobby’s truck ran over and killed him. Diane and Dedra were thrown from the vehicle and, as it continued to spin, it came to a stop over Dedra. The battery broke and battery acid dripped down to the pavement pooling around the side of Dedra’s face burning it horribly. Diane regained consciousness, crawled under the vehicle and tried to rescue Dedra. In doing so she suffered third degree burns from the battery acid over the length of her left arm. She passed out again and paramedics found her holding Dedra under the truck, both unconscious.
Bobby awoke in the hospital the next day. The blow to his head caused him to lose fifty percent (50%) of his hearing in his left ear. Bobby learned his wife Diane had suffered a badly broken jaw which was wired together and third degree acid burns over her entire left arm which would disfigure her for life. Dedra, their 18 month old child, was hurt worst of all. Both of her arms and legs were broken. She suffered severe internal injuries. The injury to her dominant arm was so severe it ripped the nerves which controlled the use of the arm away from the spinal cord, causing her to permanently lose the use of her dominant hand. One side of Dedra’s face was permanently disfigured from the battery acid burns. Dedra remained on life support for weeks before she began to recover.
The driver of the commercial truck which caused this tragedy was cited for driving under the influence. A construction crew supervisor from Alabama, he and the rest of his crew decided to hold a “topping off” party the afternoon of this wreck. He bought beer and liquor for all the workers to drink at a fish fry on the job site. The home office approved purchase of the alcohol and agreed to host the fish fry. According to witnesses at the party, the drunk driver had been drinking steadily for more than six (6) hours before the wreck occurred. At the time of the wreck, his blood alcohol content was two and one-half (2½) times the legal limit required to prove he was intoxicated.
Suit was filed against the drunk driver and the company for which he worked. After two (2) years of intense investigation and pre-trial preparation, the case was scheduled for trial in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. Our careful examination of the drunk driver’s background revealed that he had been caught for driving under the influence at least once before in the State of Georgia and once before in his home state of Alabama. One (1) week before trial, the Defendant’s insurance carriers agreed to pay Bobby, Diane and Dedra a combination of cash, monthly and annual payments which, over the course of Dedra’s lifetime, will amount to more than Twenty-Three Million Dollars ($23,000,000.00).
John was involved in a car wreck and suffered a neck injury. After his initial recovery, John noticed he was having difficulty buttoning his shirt and picking up small objects such as coins. When he questioned his doctor, a neurosurgeon, John was told a ruptured disc in his neck was pressing against nerves and causing a loss of his fine motor skills. The surgeon recommended John have the ruptured disc removed and replaced with a bone graft. The graft would be held in place by a small rectangular titanium plate and four (4) tiny screws. John agreed to have the surgery, which involved an incision on the right side of his neck, cutting through the muscle and shifting the esophagus out of the way so as to expose the spine, then removal and replacement of the disc with a graft. John was told the procedure went well and was a complete success.
Several days after surgery, John noticed an annoying tickling sensation in his throat. It caused him to cough and try to clear his throat and eventually grew worse. When John developed a fever and chills, the surgeon told him he probably just had a cold and advised him to take Tylenol. John began to cough more frequently and he felt terrible all the time. He called his surgeon on several occasions but was always told to keep taking the Tylenol and get plenty of rest.
Four (4) weeks after the surgery, John was sitting at home one Saturday morning watching television and he had a violent coughing spell. He covered his mouth as he began to cough and felt something fall into the palm of his hand. When the coughing spell stopped, he looked into his hand and found one of the screws which had been placed in his spine four weeks earlier. Frantic, John called his surgeon but could not reach him. The surgeon’s partner advised John to come back to the hospital immediately. John’s wife helped him into their pickup truck and drove him to the hospital. By the time they arrived, John could not move his legs. He was unable to walk into the emergency room. John was rushed to surgery immediately. He awoke four days later to find himself completely paralyzed from his mid-chest down. He had lost the use of his dominant right hand and arm and had only limited use of his left hand and arm. Because of errors by his original surgeon, John would spend the rest of his life as a C-6 quadriplegic. A self-employed business man and father of two (2) infant children, John would be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He would never walk again, never have a normal relationship with his wife, and he would require twenty-four (24) hour a day nursing care. Eighteen (18) months after he became a quadriplegic John’s wife divorced him, and took their two (2) children. John now lives with his nursing staff who care for him day and night.
Suit was filed against the neurosurgeon who performed John’s original disc removal and fusion as well as the manufacturer of the plate and screw system which was used in his surgery. Experts retained on John’s behalf testified the surgeon had stripped one of the screws as he put it in and he should have removed and replaced it with a larger “rescue” screw instead of leaving it in the plate hoping the fusion would heal without further incident. Engineering experts who reviewed the design of the plate and screw system found that it lacked a simple safety feature which would have prevented the screw from backing out. Collectively, experts retained on John’s behalf testified that following his discharge from the first surgery, the stripped screw began to work its way out of the plate every time John spoke, swallowed or coughed. As the screw backed out, it pressed into the edge of John’s esophagus, eventually causing a hole in the esophageal wall. The hole became an entry point and caused an infection to set up in John’s spinal cord, literally crushing the spinal cord and causing his paralysis.
After two and a half (2½) years of investigation and trial preparation, the case was mediated and the surgeon and screw manufacturer settled for Three Million Dollars ($3,000,000.00). The car wreck which caused John’s injury was settled for Nine Hundred Seventy-Five Thousand Dollars ($975,000.00). Since John was performing work-related duties at the time of the car wreck, he was deemed to be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits which paid all of his medical expenses to date, as well as all of his future medical expenses, including handicap accessible vans, a specially equipped home, and nurse staffing to remain with him for the rest of his life. To date, John has received money and benefits in excess of Eight Million Five Hundred Thousand Dollars ($8,500,000.00).
Fifteen year old Cindy suffered from scoliosis, or curvature of the spine. Cindy’s pediatrician referred to her a local pediatric orthopedic practice which specialized in corrective surgery for scoliosis. The surgery involved cutting into Cindy’s back and exposing the spine, straightening the curve and holding the straightened spine in place with wires, screws and hooks. The screws and hooks were to be anchored into Cindy’s vertebrae and the wires stretched between them in such a way as to straighten Cindy’s spine. Since the procedure involved potential risk to Cindy’s spinal cord, the operation would be monitored by a technician whose equipment was designed to alert the operating team if a potential spinal cord injury occurred. Cindy’s parents agreed to the surgery.
Although the surgery was scheduled to take four hours, it was not finished for almost eight hours. The surgeon told Cindy’s parents the procedure was complicated when the neuromonitoring equipment registered a “false-positive” which showed a potential injury to Cindy’s spinal cord. When the monitoring equipment readings were inconclusive, the surgeon preformed a Stagnara wake-up test which involved reducing Cindy’s anesthesia, asking her to move her legs and wiggle her toes, and then increasing the anesthesia again so as to complete Cindy’s surgery. The surgeon assured Cindy’s mom and dad everything else went well and Cindy would be fine.
Cindy was kept heavily sedated for several days following surgery. Eventually, it was noted that there was no movement in Cindy’s legs, feet or toes. Four days following the surgery, a CT scan was ordered which showed that two of the screws placed in Cindy’s spine were pressing against her spinal cord. Cindy was immediately returned to surgery; however, the damage had already been done to the spinal cord and Cindy was rendered a paraplegic. She will spend the rest of her life in a wheel chair.
Suit was filed against the surgeon, the intraoperative neuromonitoring service, and the hospital where Cindy’s surgery was performed. The experts hired on Cindy’s behalf testified that (1) the surgeon was negligent by placing in Cindy’s spine incorrectly so that it would damage the spinal cord, (2) failing to order appropriate testing when advised by the neuromonitoring technician of an adverse occurrence and (3) failure to remove the screws and apply steroids to Cindy’s spinal cord so as to prevent or minimize any potential damage. Allegations of negligence against the neuromonitoring technician included, (1) failing to notify the physician immediately when an adverse event occurred; (2) failing to correctly record significant operative events and (3) failure to use the monitoring equipment appropriately as required by the type of surgery being performed. Allegations of negligence against the hospital included, (1) failure to properly train the technician to perform her duties in a professional and responsible manner; and (2) failure to have a neurologist M.D. or D.O. or neurophysiologist PhD available to advise the treating surgeon when he was warned by a neuromonitoring technician of an adverse advent. The doctor, neuromonitoring technician and hospital denied responsibility for Cindy’s injury, arguing that it was a rare but recognized risk of spine surgery.
After suit was filed, the parties engaged in extensive pre-trial preparation for two (2) years. Over thirty-five witnesses statements were taken. Expert witnesses were deposed in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Georgia, Orlando, Florida and San Juan, Puerto Rico. When the case was scheduled for trial, the doctor, neuromonitoring technician and hospital requested mediation. After fourteen hours of mediation in which more than twenty people participated, the case was resolved for a significant confidential sum which would provide financial protection and adequate resources to care for Cindy the rest of her life.
Michael and Amey were seven years old and best friends who moved into their neighborhood at the same time. They loved to play on the big vacant lot which the builder had set aside for a kids play area. The lot was sloped and led from the street to a creek below.
One day a bulldozer operator dragged a 1,500 pound steel pipe off of a construction site and left it at the top of the slope leading down to the children’s play area. He braced it with some pieces of scrap wood. Within a day or two all of the neighborhood kids, including Michael and Amey, were crawling through the pipe and playing on it the way they did the playground areas at the local McDonald’s Restaurant. One of the adult neighbors became concerned when he saw the pipe wobble and called the subdivision construction superintendent, warning him that the pipe appeared unsteady and he was afraid a child may be hurt.
A week later, Michael and Amey rode their bikes to the vacant lot and began playing around the pipe. It broke loose and started to roll down the slope. Michael ran along beside it. As the pipe gained momentum, it began to bounce and then spun around rolling over Michael, killing him.
Suit was filed against the subdivision property owner and the bulldozer operator who dragged the pipe out of the woods. After two years of litigation, the case was resolved when defendant’s agreed to pay their combined liability insurance policy limits. The settlement amount was confidential; however, it was believed to be the largest amount paid on a child death case up to that time in DeKalb County, Georgia.
Three year old Darius stayed at a day-care center while his parents worked. The day-care center was located in the home of the woman who, along with her husband, operated the center. Sometimes when Darius’ mother had to work a double shift, he would spend the night with the day-care center operator and her family.
One morning, after one of those double shifts, Darius’ mother received a call that Darius was being taken to the hospital because he was acting very tired and lethargic when he woke up. When Darius’ mother arrived at the hospital, she was told her son appeared to have suffered a head injury of some sort. Later, the day-care owner’s husband admitted that after becoming frustrated with Darius because his pants were wet, he shoved the three year old and his head hit against the wall. Darius was diagnosed with a severe brain injury which left him partially paralyzed, wheel chair bound, and incapable of caring for himself.
Suit was filed against the day-care owner and her husband. A pre-trial investigation determined that the owner had actually slammed Darius’ head into a wall causing the severe injury. The case was tried before a jury in DeKalb County, Georgia and a verdict in the amount of $9,000,000.00 was returned in favor of Darius and his mother. The day-care operator’s husband was convicted of criminal child abuse and sentenced to ten years in prison.
Annie’s parents came to me with the following facts: 11 year old Annie and several of her friends played together every day after school. Their favorite activity was sliding down a steep hill at the front of their subdivision while inside cardboard boxes. On any given day, ten or twelve of them would be involved. One afternoon, several weeks before as Annie and her friends were playing, her box slid to the bottom of the hill and stopped partially in the main road leading into their subdivision. The driver of a landscape truck traveling down the road slammed into the box causing Annie to suffer a severe head and brain injury. Annie was air-lifted to a children’s hospital where she would remain for several months.
At least two law firms had reviewed the case and refused to take it, saying it could not be won. I agreed to review the case.
I drove to the subdivision to get an idea of the location where this incident occurred and to try and understand what would have been visible to the landscape truck driver as he drove down the main street of Annie’s subdivision. As I drove the route taken by the landscape truck, it became obvious the driver had a clear view of all the kids on the hill for between five and ten seconds before he hit Annie. In other words, if the truck driver had been paying attention, he would have seen Annie slide down the hill and could have easily avoided hitting her. There was absolutely no reason for Annie to have been injured.
I agreed to take the case. I first obtained a copy of the police report to determine who owned the truck and who provided its insurance. I then drafted a letter to the truck owner and insurance carrier requesting I be provided with an affidavit, or sworn statement, outlining the available liability insurance coverage for the truck driver. After receiving this information, I wrote a three-page letter to the insurance carrier which included an analysis of the event, photographs of the hill and street where Annie was hit and a copy of one medical report describing Annie’s brain injury. Two weeks later, the truck driver’s insurance company agreed to pay Annie its policy limits of $250,000.00. The money was placed in a special account for Annie and will be available to her when she turns eighteen.
(MOTOR VEHICLE ACCIDENT)
Seventeen year old Melanie was a full-time high school student and worked two part-time jobs saving money for college. She had bought her own car with money she earned, and she paid for her own insurance. Melanie left her house every morning at 6:30 so she could arrive at school early to review her homework, study for tests and socialize with her friends.
One morning, just like any other, Melanie left home for school. She turned left out of her subdivision and onto the two-lane roadway which would take her directly to school. It was 6:45 a.m. and still dark, so Melanie had turned on her headlights. She didn’t make it to school.
Melanie awoke three weeks later in the trauma center of a local hospital. She had suffered a severely fractured skull and brain injury after her car crashed into the side of a flatbed truck which had pulled out in front of her and blocked the roadway. Melanie couldn’t see the truck in the dark because it did not have side reflectors as were required by law.
Suit was filed against the driver of the flatbed truck and company for which he was employed. After twelve months of litigation and trial preparation, the suit was settled for the truck driver’s liability insurance limits of $750,000.00. All of Melanie’s medical expenses were paid for by her group health insurance carrier and she subsequently made a good recovery from her injuries.
(MOTOR VEHICLE ACCIDENT)
Jessie was four years old. Her mom and dad divorced when she was only one and a half, but Jessie’s dad saw her every weekend and kept her during the summer. Jessie was the apple of his eye and he treated her like a little princess.
Jessie’s mom was on her way to shop one morning and Jessie was in the back seat in her car seat. It had snowed the day before and there was snow on the ground but the roads were clear. A car coming from the opposite direction lost control and ran head-on into Jessie’s car. The impact was so great that Jessie and her mother died instantly. The other driver claimed he slid on “black ice” which he never saw, but which caused him to lose control of his car and drive into oncoming traffic. The investigating officer did not charge him with the wreck.
Our investigation involved obtaining copies of photographs taken by the investigating officer as well as reviewing statements of witnesses who drove through the roadway both before and after this tragic wreck occurred. I determined that as many as 100 vehicles would have passed the same spot before this incident occurred and there had been no other wrecks reported. The evidence plainly suggested the other driver had become distracted and drifted into the path of Jessie’s mother’s car.
Jessie’s father filed suit against the driver who caused this horrible wreck for the wrongful death of his little girl. After two years of trial preparation and one day of mediation, the case was settled for a confidential sum.
(MOTOR VEHICLE ACCIDENT)
Larry and his sons, Donnie and Mickey, along with Mickey’s best friend Richard, left Atlanta for Kentucky to start new jobs as satellite installers for a new company. Larry and Donnie rode in one car while Mickey and Richard rode in another.
The route they chose took them through the Smokey Mountains in Tennessee. As they were driving down a two-lane highway before 6:00 a.m. on morning, Larry noticed Richard had steered his car from the roadway onto the paved shoulder, as though he were stopping for some sort of emergency. It was still dark, and foggy, but Larry had a clear view of Richard and his son Donnie, who was asleep in the front passenger side of Richard’s car. As Richard pulled into the emergency lane, Larry, to his horror, saw the back end of an illegally parked tractor-trailer. Larry watched as Richard drove under the back end of the tractor-trailer. Larry saw both Mickey and Richard decapitated.
Suit was filed against the truck driver and company for whom he worked for failure to have his emergency flashing lights engaged and failure to have placed reflective triangles which would have alerted Richard to the truck’s presence in the dark and foggy conditions. During our pretrial investigation, it was discovered the truck driver had stopped not because of any accident; rather, he had pulled off the roadway and into the emergency lane to catch a few hours sleep. The evidence we uncovered suggested the truck driver did not turn his emergency flashers on because the clicking sound the flashers made would have kept him awake. Additionally, we discovered that the trucker was fired from his company after this incident for refusing to take a blood test following the wreck.
After eighteen months of intensive trial preparation, the case was settled for a confidential sum.
(MOTOR VEHICLE ACCIDENT)
Marvin, a construction worker and part-time musician, was driving his pickup truck back to work from lunch. As he approached an intersection, a big rental truck pulled out of a service station and directly in front of him. Marvin slammed on the brakes but could not stop and broadsided the truck. He was knocked unconscious and awoke in the back of an ambulance with an excruciating pain in his right leg and hip. The pain was so intense, Marvin passed out again and the next time he awoke was in the emergency room of Emory University Hospital. Marvin’s femur, the big bone in his thigh, was shattered in multiple pieces and would require rods, plates, and screws to be repaired. The surgery went well; however, the doctors told Marvin his hip had been damaged so extensively that eventually it would need to be replaced.
Marvin remained hospitalized and heavily sedated. About three days after his surgery, while watching television, he saw an advertisement for a personal injury lawyer who promised to “solve all of his problems with a single call”. Never having been involved in this type of situation, and not knowing who to call, Marvin called the television lawyer. When he called, the television lawyer wasn’t available but Marvin spoke with one of his assistants. That same day, the assistant came to Marvin’s hospital room and Marvin signed a retainer agreement promising to pay him a percentage of whatever was recovered. Two days later, the assistant returned to Marvin’s hospital room and told him that the rental truck which caused his wreck had only $25,000.00 in liability insurance coverage. The television lawyer’s assistant recommended Marvin settle the case and, after payment of attorney’s fees, he would receive $16,667.00 which he could use toward payment of his hospital bills or for living expenses. The assistant told Marvin $25,000.00 was all he could get and it would be better for him to take it now than wait until later. Marvin told him he wanted to think about it and would get back with him the next day. Fortunately for Marvin, one of his friends visited him in the hospital that night. When Marvin shared with her the assistant’s recommendation he settle the case she suggested he call me, since I had represented one of her friends in a similar situation. She told Marvin he could trust me to give him an honest opinion.
Marvin called me the next day and discussed the facts of his case. I told him I didn’t think he should settle the case unless and until all the facts were properly investigated. I told him I believed I could help him achieve a better recovery but, that if I could not, I would not charge him a fee. Marvin contacted the television lawyer’s office and told them he was going to another lawyer for a second opinion and that he would not settle the case. Unbelievably, the television lawyer threatened to file a lien against Marvin’s case for $8,333.00, his “fee” for helping to negotiate a $25,000.00 settlement. When Marvin shared this with me, I told him I would take care of the television lawyer and his assistant. I also told him to not worry about his case from that point on and to concentrate on getting better. I told him I would be able to discuss the case with him two weeks later when he was due to be discharged from the hospital.
Over the next two weeks, I obtained a copy of the police report generated by Marvin’s wreck. The report listed the name and address of the truck driver who caused the wreck, and, more importantly, the company for which the truck driver worked. I called the truck driver, identified myself and asked if he would talk to me about the wreck. He first wanted to know how Marvin was doing and wanted me to apologize for him to Marvin for causing the wreck. He felt terrible about it and agreed it was 100% his fault. I promised to convey his apology to Marvin and shared with him Marvin’s condition. I then asked the truck driver one simple question: “Was there any additional insurance coverage on the truck?” The driver informed me he had purchased an additional liability policy for $500,000.00 two days before the wreck occurred. I thanked him for the information and told him that suit would be filed against him so that Marvin could collect sufficient funds to pay for his surgery, lost time from work and his eventual hip replacement. I also assured him we would not be trying to recover any of his personal assets, only the money from the insurance coverage.
Suit was filed and, after approximately twelve months of litigation, the truck driver’s insurance carrier requested the case be mediated. All the parties met and discussed Marvin’s injury, the effect it would have on his life, the expenses he had incurred through that time and the expense he would incur when his hip was replaced. The case was not settled that day; however, after approximately two weeks, the truck driver’s insurance carrier agreed to pay Marvin $300,000.00. Marvin recovered twelve times as much as the television lawyer’s assistant promised him because I was willing to take the time necessary to do a thorough job.
(MOTOR VEHICLE ACCIDENT)
Nathan called our office after his 65 year old father had been run over. The police report indicated that Nathan’s dad had walked across a lane of traffic and stepped in front of an oncoming car which hit and killed him. The report stated that Nathan’s dad came from the driver’s left and stepped in front of his car leaving no way for the driver to avoid him. The investigating officer blamed Nathan’s dad. Other lawyers refused to take the case because the investigating officer believed it was his dad’s fault.
I agreed to review the case and represent Nathan if I believed I could help him. My investigation showed that Nathan’s dad was in the habit of walking across the street at this location every morning and waiting on the opposite side shoulder of the road until his ride for work arrived. Our review of the driver’s statement made to the investigating police officer indicated she never saw Nathan’s dad before hitting him. She said she thought she had hit “a dog or something lying in the road” but could not tell because it was dark. She did not know she had hit Nathan’s dad until she parked her car, walked back and saw him lying on the side of the road.
I obtained a copy of the accident scene photographs taken by the investigating officer and a copy of the autopsy report prepared by the County Medical Examiner. An examination of the photographs of the driver’s car showed the damage was done to the front of the car toward the passenger side as well as the passenger side, side-view mirror. The autopsy report revealed that Nathan’s dad had died from severe internal injuries; however, his left leg and ankle were shattered in several places. After reviewing all of the evidence, we agreed to represent Nathan in a wrongful death claim for his dad.
I drafted a letter to the driver’s insurance carrier and pointed out that, logically, the incident could not have happened as described by the investigating police officer. Importantly, if Nathan’s dad crossed the street from the driver’s left and stepped in front of the driver, all of the injuries should be on the driver’s side of the vehicle and most of the injuries should be to the right side of Nathan’s dad’s body. However, the photographs taken clearly show damage to the passenger side of the vehicle and the autopsy clearly showed that Nathan’s dad suffered the majority of injury to his left leg and side which would have been impossible if he was crossing the street as the investigating officer suggested. I argued that given the location of the damage to the car, including the passenger side, side-view mirror, and the location of the injuries to Nathan’s dad, in all likelihood, Nathan’s dad was standing on the side of the road waiting for his ride when the driver drifted off the road and hit him. No other reasonable conclusion could be drawn from the physical evidence. After receiving our letter and demand for payment, the driver’s insurance carrier agreed to pay Nathan the sum of $100,000.00, the limits of its liability policy.