Posted on May 2, 2019 in Case Results
In December 2016, Mr. Sam Jones (not his real name) came to a stop on I-285 in metro-Atlanta afternoon traffic. The vehicle ahead of Mr. Jones stopped, so he stopped. Within a matter of seconds, he saw in his rear-view mirror that the tractor-trailer behind him was not stopping and was about to crash into him.
A tractor-trailer slammed into the rear of Mr. Jones’ vehicle at a high speed. The collision launched Mr. Jones’ vehicle into the car ahead of him. Mr. Jones’ vehicle was totaled due to the severity of the collision.
Mr. Jones hired us shortly after the wreck. We discovered that an officer’s dash camera actually captured the wreck (this was not noted in the original police report). We obtained the footage, and it became a crucial piece of evidence later in the case.
Fortunately for Mr. Jones, an officer was already at the scene, and he immediately attended to Mr. Jones until paramedics arrived. The only citation the officer issued for the wreck was against the truck driver for Following Too Closely, in violation of O.C.G.A § 40-6-49. (We later obtained a copy of the bond forfeiture of the ticket, which we used against the truck driver as evidence of him admitting fault.)
Mr. Jones was transported from the scene of the collision to the emergency room at Northside Hospital. He had immediate complaints of pain in the left side of his lower back, pain in his tailbone, and a burning sensation in the back of his head. The medical team at Northside Hospital performed CT scans and determined that there were no fractures and no immediate risk of death, so they administered pain medication and discharged Mr. Jones from the ER later that day. Even though he was discharged from the ER, Mr. Jones was not okay. (See my earlier article about the ER’s role in treatment of injuries and how the ER’s purpose is to make sure there are no life-threatening injuries, not to determine the full scope of a car accident victim’s injuries.)
Fortunately, because Mr. Jones hired a good attorney, he was able to get follow-up medical care quickly. Treatment started conservatively, with physical therapy and conservative modalities. But when Mr. Jones was not improving, he saw specialists who performed further diagnostic testing and other pain-relieving procedures.
Mr. Jones underwent MRIs which showed:
Copied below are illustrations that we ordered to use at trial to show a jury the extent of the herniations in Mr. Jones’ spine.
Mr. Jones underwent many different procedures and medical treatments to help resolve his excruciating back pain:
Many of these procedures provided some pain relief, but unfortunately they didn’t last long enough and didn’t reduce pain enough for him to be able to return to work as a network engineer. In his job, he had to sit upright and walk around the server warehouse for eight hours a day. (Many people are able to get excellent relief from the above procedures, but unfortunately, Mr. Jones’ injuries were too severe.)
Mr. Jones then consulted with two other surgeons, and both recommended more invasive surgical options, including a Lumbar Discectomy at L4-5 and medial branch blocks. Mr. Jones underwent the medial branch blocks and the Lumbar Discectomy at L4-5, and we ordered illustrations of the surgery to help the jury better understand the procedure.
Mr. Jones had some relief following the discectomy, but unfortunately, he was not well enough to return to work or to enjoy the simple pleasures in his life (Mr. Jones was a competitive country line dancer and an avid boater). Five months after the discectomy, Mr. Jones was recommended to undergo neuromodulation therapy with spinal cord stimulation, called Doral Column Stimulation (DCS). Mr. Jones was concerned about having a machine implanted into his spine and sought multiple opinions from some of the best doctors in Atlanta. The other doctors also recommended the implant. Mr. Jones tried to wait out the pain to see if it would improve on its own. After six months, the pain had not improved, and he was still unable to return to work. Mr. Jones ultimately went through with the spinal implant.
The surgery provided relief. Mr. Jones would say in his deposition that when he had the implant in, he felt the least amount of pain that he had felt in the two years since the wreck. This was exciting for him because the pain and limitations had taken a toll on his physical and mental health. The metaphorical weight he had been carrying dropped from 100 pounds to 50 pounds, but it was still very much there. He was still unable to sit for long enough periods of time to return to his well-paying job, and he still was not 100%. The implant was later taken out due to a complication, which was disheartening for Mr. Jones. He still deals with his injuries to this day, but he has a great outlook on life, and he will probably have another implant put in in the future.
When Mr. Jones first hired us, we had two concerns: (1) Make sure Mr. Jones gets the medical treatment and care that he needs for his injuries, and (2) Make sure to preserve as much evidence as possible. We sent spoliation letters to the Canadian trucking company, to its insurer, and to the driver by certified mail. The letters requested that they preserve all the driver logs, bills of lading, and other evidence related to the driver and this wreck. We obtained the dashcam footage, which was crucial later in the case. We also requested information as to the policy limits of the trucking company’s insurance. (Without a letter requesting evidence preservation, trucking companies will destroy their documents shortly after a wreck, making it difficult or impossible to prove whether the truck driver was driving over his hours or violating other trucking regulations.)
In most of our cases, we send a demand letter to the insurance company detailing our client’s injuries, medical bills, lost wages, and an explanation of why the other driver is at fault. In most cases, the insurance company will respond to the demand letter and either accept our demand or make their own counter-offer. In this case, the insurance company was Canadian, and they made no offer to our initial demand even though Mr. Jones was seriously hurt and we gave them a reasonable opportunity to settle the case. When they made no offer, we filed suit against the Canadian trucking company, the Canadian driver, and the insurance company. (In Georgia, the trucking company insurer can be named as a party, which is different from cases where the at-fault driver is just an individual in a regular car instead of a commercial vehicle.)
The lawsuit lasted for over a year. In the Defendants’ initial answers and written discovery responses, they refused to admit they were at fault. They continued to deny any responsibility, even after the depositions and the presentation of dashcam footage! They said that Mr. Jones swerved in front of the truck as he was attempting to stop. The trucking company was a fly-by-night operation where the owners closed the company the year following the wreck and were nowhere to be found. We believe they moved back to India. We wish we could have found and deposed them. Fortunately, we did find the Canadian driver. We flew up to Toronto to depose the driver, and it was very favorable to our case.
The driver insisted throughout the deposition that Mr. Jones swerved in front of his truck and that he wasn’t able to stop in time. When we showed the driver the video of the wreck, he still insisted that our client swerved in front of him. Denying responsibility even in the face of the BEST evidence is typical in truck wreck and car wreck cases. We were able to use the driver’s stubbornness against him later in the case. The driver also admitted that he received the preservation letter we sent early in the case, but he burned all of his driver logs in a barrel in the woods after he was fired by the trucking company the month after the wreck. Needless to say, in any serious truck case, it is crucial to have the video deposition testimony of the truck driver.
Even though the deposition was successful, our work was not done. The Defendants’ attorney wanted to depose Mr. Jones. While depositions typically last 1.5 -2.5 hours, the defense attorney deposed Mr. Jones for 7 hours! Mr. Jones was in pain throughout the deposition and had to take multiple breaks to move around and change position due to his injuries. They asked him questions suggesting that he wasn’t really hurt and that it wasn’t really that bad. Mr. Jones did a great job of keeping his cool and calmly answering these questions in a professional and straightforward manner. Because he handled himself so well, the defense attorney would have to report back to the insurer that Mr. Jones would be a great witness for himself if the case went to trial.
Mr. Jones is a good man, but in any successful trial you need more than simply a Plaintiff saying he is hurt and incurred medical bills to get a jury to understand his plight and to return a full and just verdict. Fortunately, Mr. Jones had excellent friends and family in his life. We had the defense attorney depose Mr. Jones’ sister, his brother-in-law, a former co-worker, and a friend. They were all able tell stories about Mr. Jones: He was the life of the party at family gatherings; he danced with his sister at Christmas; he was a great co-worker; and he enjoyed boating with his friends and family. They were also able to tell stories about Mr. Jones after the wreck: He couldn’t dance with his sister even though he tried; he was in visible pain when he tried to do his job, but he did his best until he couldn’t do the work; he was withdrawn at family events. I will address this in a later blog post, but we truly believe that the best witnesses for a Plaintiff are these friends and family who can tell the story for the Plaintiff, because they are unbiased. They aren’t asking a jury for money, so they have no motivation to exaggerate. (Plus, if they are willing to speak in front of 12 jurors in a courtroom, then they must really like the Plaintiff.)
Almost three years after the wreck, and after one year of intense litigation, we were prepared to give the Defendants and their insurance company one last chance to do the right thing. We sent a second, time-limited policy limits demand. This demand was 24 pages long. It not only summarized Mr. James’ injuries to date, but also all of the depositions that were taken and the discovery that had been exchanged. It analyzed for the defendants why this was a case where a jury would return a verdict in excess of the $2 Million Canadian policy limits and demanded they pay it.
After a lot of hard work and a lot of patience and courage shown by our client, the Defendants’ insurance company met our demand and paid the policy limits. This was a great result for our client. (If the trucking company had not gone out of business, we probably would have tried the case to a jury and sought additional assets.)
Representing Mr. Jones was a pleasure and an honor. I truly consider him a good friend now after the journey that we have been through for the past three years. He is a kind man, a family man, and a talented individual. We still talk and check in with each other to see how life is going. We are thrilled that we were able to get the best possible outcome for him, even though this was a terrible situation that no one should be put in. Even though the litigation has ended, Mr. Jones’ journey for recovery and normalcy continues. Money can’t make him a competitive country line dancer again or allow him to work on his boat like he used to. But it does help him pay his bills since he is not able to return to work. It helps him support his family like he did before he was smashed by a negligent truck driver. And it helps him stop worrying about what financial disaster the next month or year may bring.
Mr. Jones, if you read this article, thank you for trusting us with your case and your life.