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.
A 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.
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’s 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, wheelchair-bound, and incapable of caring for himself.
The 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.