Butler Kahn recently reached a settlement which was over 10x our client’s medical damages at $700,000. The impact of the collision was so severe that witnesses who assisted with pulling our client out of his vehicle following the wreck were shocked to find that he had survived. In fact, our client, whose vehicle was struck with such extreme force, only sustained relatively minor injuries and recovered with no need for surgery. We feel honored to have had the opportunity to be able to work with our client who was fortunate enough to walk away from such a catastrophic accident. Although we can’t say the same for his vehicle, we know that it isn’t every day that accidents of this magnitude have a happy ending.
(In the description that follows, we have changed some names to protect privacy and comply with the confidentiality terms of the settlement.)
Details of the Truck Accident
It was an ordinary day, just like any other and Mr. Gibbons was headed home from work for the evening during rush hour. As he traveled southbound on I-85, he began to slow for traffic congestion just ahead of him when he was forcefully struck from behind by a commercial truck. The impact of the collision was violent. Not only did it propel Mr. Gibbons’ vehicle into the vehicle immediately in front of him, causing that vehicle to then strike the vehicle in front of it and so on, but Mr. Gibbons’ vehicle had been demolished.
Photograph showing the front tire of the commercial truck in the back seat of Mr. Gibbon’s sedan
The force of the impact completely displaced the entire back seat and trunk of Mr. Gibbon’s sedan. Several feet of white gouge marks were paved into the roadway from where the undercarriage of Mr. Gibbons’ vehicle was drug from the point of impact to its final resting place. The front of Mr. Gibbons’ vehicle was caved inward, and the hood barely attached. Shattered glass, blown tires and other fragments of his vehicle cluttered the roadway creating a scene that looked like a loss of life. Although the passenger side of Mr. Gibbon’s sedan was in pieces, the driver’s side from which he sat, was nearly intact sparing him from the end one would have expected. Witnesses who initially hesitated to run to his rescue because of their belief that no one could have survived, were shocked when they saw that he was alive. Mr. Gibbons, who was described by witnesses to have been holding a picture of the Virgin Mary in his hand, was pulled out of his vehicle by a few good Samaritans and rushed to the hospital by ambulance. He experienced a loss of consciousness and only remembers waking up in the hospital. His other injuries, which were not as severe as they could have been, included back, rib and shoulder fractures.
Injuries, Damages, and Past Medical Bills
Surprisingly, Mr. Gibbons’ total medical bills only reached about $67,000. That’s a big number, but in a collision like this, we would normally expect medical bills to reach into the hundreds of thousands, or millions, of dollars. The photographs captured after the wreck will have anyone questioning how Mr. Gibbon’s managed to survive and escape this type of tragedy with minimal bruising and no broken bones. Mr. Gibbon’s treatment consisted of just a 2-day hospital stay for observation, placement in an arm sling to immobilize his shoulder, and a few weeks of physical therapy for shoulder pain. He did not require surgery or any other type of ongoing or invasive medical treatment.
Who Was at Fault for the Truck Accident
When we see a collision this severe, we know there’s probably more to the story than what first appears. That was true with this case.
Most truck drivers are good at what they do. Since we are personal injury lawyers, our firm doesn’t become involved in truck accidents unless something bad has happened, and for that reason we see a lot of negligence by trucking companies and truck drivers. But we know that most truckers take their jobs seriously and are good, cautious drivers. So when we see a collision like this – when the truck plowed into another vehicle and barely slowed down – we suspect that something unusual was going on. This could be more than just negligence.
When police investigated the collision, the truck driver admitted on the officers’ body-worn cameras that he had fallen asleep at the wheel. They issued citations to the driver for for following too closely (O.C.G.A. § 40-6-49) and failure to safely operate a commercial motor vehicle (O.C.G.A. § 40-1-8).
Excerpt from the Supplemental Police Report
Still, we suspected something more. We knew that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations require trucking companies to make their drivers undergo drug tests after serious collisions like this, so after we filed the lawsuit, we sent discovery requests seeking evidence and information about that drug test. In this case, the truck company – a large and fairly reputable company – had asked their driver to take a drug test immediately after the collision, but he refused. He was fired on the spot. That told us something about the ultimate cause of this collision.
Corporate Shell Games: Related Trucking Companies
Finding the right trucking company to sue can be surprisingly complex. Reading the logo on the side of the truck, and even searching the DOT number, may not be enough. Many companies that operate tractor-trailers create many different corporations or LLCs, with different entities that own each other or operate each other. Often, the corporate ‘shell game’ is an attempt to avoid civil liability if one of the tractor-trailers causes a collision and hurts someone. For example, one common tactic is to create one large company where the corporate assets are held, and then to have other smaller corporations or LLCs that supposedly ‘operate’ the actual trucks. There may even be intermediary ‘holding companies.’ Then when someone gets hurt and seeks compensation, the company’s lawyers insist that the hurt person or their family can only sue the small LLC – and of course, that’s not where the company’s assets are.
We use lots of different tools and resources to get to the right company, but sometimes there is no way to identify the correct defendant for certain without filing a lawsuit and sending official requests for evidence and information (which are called “discovery requests”). Often, when we file a case against a trucking company, we name multiple corporate defendants and add “John Does 1-5.” That way, if we get into the litigation and conclude that we need to add another corporate entity to the lawsuit, we can substitute the correct corporate entity for one John Doe number 5.
That’s what happened in this case. In the image below, you can see the heading of our lawsuit. Because the terms of the settlement require confidentiality, we have redacted (or blacked out) the names of the companies, but you can see by the number of lines that we named many different related companies as defendants. Even then, once we filed the lawsuit and sent discovery requests, we learned about another entity that we needed to sue. So we filed an Amended Complaint and substituted one of the “John Doe” defendants for the additional entity that we learned about.
Truck Accident Settlement
After we filed the lawsuit and added the additional defendant, the trucking company and its insurance company got serious about settlement. They asked for an early mediation, and our clients agreed.
In a mediation, both parties go before a neutral person called a “mediator” to see if a settlement agreement can be reached. Typically, the parties sit down in the same room with the mediator, and both sides make a few introductory remarks and explain how they see the case. Then, the parties go to different rooms, and the mediator basically passes numbers back and forth while the parties negotiate. Sometimes a settlement is reached. Sometimes it isn’t.
In this mediation, as is typical, we started with a high number and the truck company’s insurer started with a low one. After many hours of negotiating, the insurance company offered $420,000, which was over six times our client’s past medical bills (which were $67,000). It was a good offer, but we thought we could do better. We said there was no deal and walked out of the mediation.
A few days later, the phone rang. The trucking company’s insurer wanted to make a better offer. We continued negotiating over the next several days, and eventually the insurance company offered to pay $700,000 to settle the case – over ten times our client’s past medical bills. Our client accepted the offer, and the trucking case settled for $700,000.