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Jury awards $5.5M to family in high speed wreck

Verdicts & Settlement

After a five-day trial, a McDowell County jury returned a verdict in the plaintiffs’ favor in a motor vehicle negligence claim against the county’s sheriff’s office.

The case arose on Feb. 6, 2007. At approximately 8:29 p.m., a patrol car driven by a McDowell County sheriff’s deputy collided with the rear of a 1996 Plymouth Neon in the right-hand lane of eastbound Interstate 40 near Old Fort.

The plaintiffs alleged the deputy was not paying attention to the highway. His vehicle struck the Neon at 117 mph.

Although the deputy was responding as backup at a domestic disturbance call, he was not operating the emergency lights or siren on his vehicle at the time of the impact.

Upon impact, the Neon traveled 430 feet, and the patrol car traveled 400 feet. The Neon stopped in the left-hand lane on the highway, and the patrol car came to a rest on the right-hand shoulder. Both vehicles were completely disabled.

After the vehicles came to a rest, the deputy got out of his vehicle and saw a Honda Accord approaching in the right-hand lane.

The deputy attempted to alert the Honda driver to the presence of the disabled vehicles by waving his flashlight. The driver saw the light and glass in the roadway, which caused her to switch to the left-hand lane. The Honda then struck the Neon a second time.

The occupants of the Neon included a 36-year-old mother and her 6-year-old and 2-year-old daughters. The mother and the 6-year-old were severely injured, and the 2-year-old was killed.

In November 2007, the plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the McDowell County sheriff and the sheriff’s surety company.

The plaintiffs alleged claims for negligence and gross negligence by the deputy in causing both collisions. The defendants answered the lawsuit by denying liability and alleging that the deputy’s conduct was subject to the gross negligence standard in G.S. § 20-145.

During discovery, the defendants admitted the deputy was negligent in the operation of his patrol car but denied he was grossly negligent.

A week before trial, the defendants withdrew their defense under G.S. § 20-145 and stipulated that the deputy’s negligence was a proximate cause of the plaintiffs’ injuries and the child’s wrongful death.

The plaintiffs withdrew their gross negligence claim, and the action was tried on damages only.

Type of action: Motor vehicle negligence – Sheriff’s office

Injuries alleged: Personal injuries to 36-year-old woman (traumatic brain injury with negative CT scan of head, multiple facial fractures, rib fractures, collapsed lungs, posterior ligamentous injury at T2-T3, left humerus fracture, right sterno-clavicular joint dislocation, bilateral shoulder pain, depression, anxiety and prominent scarring to left arm and upper back); personal injuries to 6-year-old girl (traumatic brain injury with negative CT scan of head, pulmonary contusions, collapsed lungs, bilateral subtrochanteric femur fractures, cervical strain and prominent scarring to upper legs); wrongful death of 2-year-old girl

Case name: Frye, et al. v. Greene, et al.

Case number: 07-CVS-941

Court: McDowell County Superior Court

Verdict or settlement: Verdict (jury)

Date: March 6, 2009

Amount: $5.5 million ($2.5 million for 36-year-old mother’s personal injuries; $2 million for the wrongful death of 2-year-old daughter; $850,000 for 6-year-old daughter’s personal injuries; $150,000 for child’s medical expenses)

Demand: $3 million for mother’s personal injuries; $700,000 for daughter’s personal injuries; $115,000 for child’s medical expenses; $2 million for the wrongful death claim

Insurer: Argonaut Great Central Insurance Company (liability insurer) and Western Surety Company (bonding company). There is an ongoing dispute between the parties as to whether there is $1 million or $2 million in available insurance coverage. The $25,000 sheriff’s bond was tendered before trial

Experts: Treating physicians – Dr. William Shillinglaw (trauma surgeon), Dr. C. Michael LeCroy (orthopedic surgeon), Dr. Jack Gotcher (oral and maxillofacial surgeon) and Dr. James B. Hoer (internal medicine). Retained experts – Melvin Tucker (police procedures), Norman Beck (police procedures), Michael Sutton, P.E. (accident reconstructionist) and Gary Albrecht, Ph.D. (economist)

Plaintiffs’ attorneys: Jason A. Orndoff of The Fulkerson Law Firm (Hickory); William S. Mills and Carlos E. Mahoney of Glenn, Mills, Fisher & Mahoney (Durham)

Editor’s note: The information in Lawyers Weekly’s verdicts and settlements reports was submitted by the counsel for the prevailing party and represents the attorney’s characterization of the case.

Lawyers Weekly, Inc., 107 Fayetteville St., Raleigh, NC 27601 (800) 876-5297

© 2009 Lawyers Weekly Inc., All Rights Reserved.

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