$6.5M Settlement – Victim clears suit hurdles

Excerpt from Virginia Lawyers Weekly.

A case that looked discouraging at first proved worthy of a recent $6.5 million settlement for a man severely injured in an interstate crash.

As they kept digging, the victim’s lawyers say they slowly uncovered facts that enhanced the defendant’s liability and minimized any role the victim’s own negligence might have played in the accident.

Despite the outcome, prospects appeared bleak when the case came to the door of Richmond lawyer David E. Durrett and his partners.

The hapless plaintiff – lawyers did not disclose party names pursuant to a confidentiality agreement – had been grievously injured when his Chrysler passenger car was nearly flattened by a tractor-trailer in the dark on Interstate 95 in Southside Virginia.

A junkyard photograph was a testament to the impact. From the image, it is hard to determine whether the mangled metal is the front or the rear of the auto.

Reports indicated the victim had pulled into the path of the truck and promptly run out of gas.

The truck driver told an investigating state trooper that the victim had not turned on his lights until just before the collision. The trooper concluded the plaintiff had no lights on at the time of the collision and declined to file any traffic charges.

To make matters worse, the injured driver – en route from North Carolina to Northern Virginia – had bottles of liquor and cans of beer in the passenger compartment.

The injured driver was airlifted to VCU with “life-threatening injuries,” Durrett reported.

The prognosis was grim. His diagnosis included a fracture of the clivus – a part of the cranium at the base of the skull. He later was treated at the Richmond area veterans’ hospital and was still in a brain injury rehabilitation facility when his claims were resolved.

After the wreck, the man’s brother in North Carolina tried to find a lawyer. One Virginia attorney agreed to discuss the case, but only if the brother would come to the lawyer’s office, Durrett said. When he got the call, Durrett agreed to go to North Carolina and meet with the family. The visit led to a retainer agreement.

“I listened to what he had to say,” Durrett said of the brother’s story.

Nevertheless, recovery seemed a daunting prospect. The defendants – the truck driver and the trucking company – strongly disputed liability, mainly pointing to the victim’s own actions.

Some of their ammunition came from the car’s “black box” – the event data recorder that stores travel information. The victim’s family had allowed defense access to the unit before they hired a lawyer. The box revealed that the car had run out of gas and was traveling only 25 miles per hour when it was rear-ended by the defendants’ truck.

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