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.
(DAY CARE ABUSE)
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.
(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)
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)
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.
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.
(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).