A Caldwell County jury has awarded $1.25 million to a woman who was knocked down and dragged across 25 feet of parking lot while trapped underneath the bumper of a tractor trailer. The jury found that the victim had partially contributed to the accident but still ruled in her favor, finding that the driver of the truck had the last clear chance to avoid the collision.
The accident occurred while the woman, Peggy Williams, was walking to her job on the premises of Sealed Air Corp in Lenoir. Her attorneys say that employees walking from the employee parking lot to their work at the plant had to cross an area that trucks would drive through to get to the public road.
Williams’ attorneys say she was waking with her back to the trucks when one of them struck her while traveling somewhere between 5 and 12 mph. The truck had a low bumper on its front, and when it stuck Williams, she was knocked down and lodged under that bumper, which dragged her about 25 feet. Williams suffered injuries including liver lacerations, broken ribs, and severe scarring on her hips that required skin grafting.
After a six-day trial during which liability was hotly contested, the jury was out for about five hours before returning June 9 with a verdict finding that both the driver and Williams were at least partially negligent. Ordinarily, partial negligence on the part of a plaintiff would prevent an award of damages, but the jury found that the driver was responsible because he had the last clear chance to avoid the accident.
Stan West, one of Williams’ attorneys, said there was a period of about 10 seconds when Williams should have been in the driver’s view, and with Williams walking and the driver travelling at a low speed, the driver had ample time to perceive the danger to Williams and to either stop or avoid her.
“It was really a classic last clear chance case,” West said.
Defendant’s attorney David Hood said after the trial that the issue of who had the last clear chance to avoid the accident is still live for appeal. He said Williams looked before she entered the roadway and saw the truck coming. He also said the $292,610 in special damages the jury awarded for medical bills was far less than the $6.2 million the plaintiff sought. Those damages related to medical bills, future lost wages, a life care plan and in-home service capacity loss, according to Hood.
Matt Altamura of Asheboro and Forrest Ferrell of Hickory also represented Williams. Hood of Hickory represented the defendant trucking firm.
West said that Sealed Air Corp was not a defendant in the case, but the company has taken remedial measures to prevent such accidents in the future.
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VERDICT REPORT – PERSONAL INJURY/NEGLIGENCE
Injuries alleged: Serious abrasions to right hip resulting in skin grafting and severe scarring, complex regional pain syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder, liver lacerations and broken ribs
Peggy Williams, et. al. v. Joseph Dale Freeman, et. al.
Court: Caldwell County Superior Court
Case number: 12-CVS-1309
Judge: C. Thomas Edwards
Special damages: $292,610 in medical bills
Date of verdict: June 9
Insurance Carrier: Canal Insurance Co.
Attorneys for plaintiff: Matt Altamura, Asheboro; Stanley West, Southern Pines; Forrest Ferrell, Hickory
Attorney for defendant: David Hood, Hickory
Editor’s note: This report has been updated to reflect post-print publication corrections.l