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N.C. man awarded $3.04M after virtual trial in Pa.


Following a virtual trial in which the judge, attorneys, parties, and witnesses were all scattered along the east coast, a Pennsylvania judge has ordered a trucking company and an at-fault driver to pay a North Carolina truck driver $3.04 million for injuries sustained in a tractor-trailer collision, the man’s attorney reports.

Charles Ellis of Ward and Smith in Greenville reported that his client, Paul Sinclair, was sleeping in the cab of his truck at a truck stop in Pennsylvania and parked in an overnight lot designated for tractor-trailers when another tractor-trailer collided with his in 2014. Sinclair was thrown about his cab and struck his head. He declined medical treatment at the scene and continued his route in another truck. 

Sinclair began to experience nausea, vomiting, and headaches, however, and when he returned to North Carolina he was referred to numerous physicians for evaluations. Dr. Patrick O’Brien at Carolina Rehabilitation/Wake Medical Center in Raleigh testified that Sinclair had sustained a traumatic brain injury in the collision, with accompanying post-concussive symptoms including cognitive deficits, vision problems that included sensitivity to light, and left side spasticity (the tightening of muscles), which made him unemployable as a truck driver.

Sinclair couldn’t obtain jurisdiction over the defendants, First Global Express, Inc. and driver Yakov Melnikin, in North Carolina, so Ellis and his co-counsel, Bradley Beckman of Beckman & Marion in Philadelphia, filed a lawsuit in Pennsylvania. 

The defense didn’t turn over discovery in time, and Judge Thomas Placey of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, ruled that the defendants’ answer to the lawsuit was thus invalid, making their demand for a jury trial void. Ellis said his client thus opted to try his case in a bench trial, because it would take two years to get a jury trial. 

On Aug. 14, a virtual trial was convened on the issue of damages, with Ellis and Sinclair taking part from Greenville. Beckman, Placey, and the clerk of court were all in Pennsylvania, while O’Brien, the expert witness, was in Raleigh, and the defendants’ counsel participated from New Jersey.

Placey conducted the day-long trial via Webex. Evidence was submitted via Dropbox, and Ellis said that O’Brien authenticated not only his records, but those of Sinclair’s other treating physicians. Ellis said the trial was either the first, or one of the first, bench trials conducted virtually in Pennsylvania. 

“The courts made it very easy and accommodating, and it was not as logistically difficult as I thought it would be, although I wouldn’t want to do it every day,” Ellis said.

Laurence Gross of Bardsley, Benedict and Cholden in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey, represented the defendants. He declined to comment on the verdict. 

Follow Bill Cresenzon on Twitter @bcresenzonclw


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