A $1.5 million settlement has been reached in a case involving a man whose legs were crushed while he was trying to free his mother from a gurney attached to a runaway ambulance.
The suit was resolved in a conservative mountain county in North Carolina that has never had a jury verdict greater than $1 million, according to the plaintiff’s attorneys, J. David Stradley of White & Stradley in Raleigh and Ruth Smith of Asheville.
They withheld identifying details about the parties and the case to comply with a confidentiality provision in the settlement agreement. The defendant is a hospital that operates the ambulance service in question.
The 51-year-old plaintiff had called an ambulance for his ill mother and the driver neglected to shift the vehicle into park when he and a coworker arrived. The ambulance was stopped on a steep driveway and its running engine kept the vehicle from rolling backward.
But one of the medics turned off the ambulance in an attempt to reset a feature that lowered the rear of the vehicle to make it easier to load patients. This was something the medics did routinely because the lowering mechanism was defective, Stradley said in an interview.
This time, though, the mechanism wasn’t working because the vehicle wasn’t in park. When the medic shut off the engine the ambulance began rolling backward with the plaintiff’s mother strapped to a gurney attached to the rear of the vehicle.
The plaintiff stepped in to save his mother and his legs were crushed between the ambulance and an open door of his parents’ vehicle, which also was parked in the driveway. If the door had not been open the ambulance would have continued down the driveway and over the edge of a ravine, according to Stradley.
“She [the plaintiff’s mother] would have been killed,” he said. “There’s no question about that.”
The plaintiff’s mother was not injured, but the plaintiff’s legs were crushed below his knees. He was flown to a trauma center and had several surgeries to repair his legs. After months of recovery he was able to walk with a cane, but a vocational expert said he will not be able to return to his construction job, according to Stradley and Smith.
They said the hospital admitted liability, but offered $350,000 to settle before the lawsuit was filed.
“I think there was just a belief that a mountain jury was never going to return a significant verdict,” Stradley said.
After the initial settlement offer, the plaintiff hired an EMS expert who testified that the hospital’s practices and procedures were not on par with industry standards.
The hospital now requires ambulance drivers to engage the parking brake before exiting the vehicle, according to Stradley.
“It was really sort of amazing to me that an ambulance service in a mountainous region would not have had a policy to require people to set the parking brake on a 15,000 to 20,000 pound ambulance,” he said.
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SETTLEMENT REPORT – MOTOR VEHICLE NEGLIGENCE
Amount: $1.5 million
Injuries alleged: Bilateral comminuted tibia and fibula fractures
Case name: Withheld
Case number: Withheld
Special damages: $158,000 past medical expenses; $270,000 future medical expense/life care plan; past and future wage loss of $459,000
Date of settlement: Oct. 17
Insurance carrier: VFIS/Glatfelter Claims Management; Adjuster Craig Zepp
Attorneys for plaintiff: J. David Stradley of White & Stradley in Raleigh and Ruth Smith of Asheville
Attorney for defendant: Withheld