Wrongful Death Car Accident Case: Jury Trial, $10 Million Settlement, and Forgiveness

Rosie Minor

Rosie MinorWe’ve handled lots of cases involving tragic losses, hard-fought litigation, and large dollar figures, but we don’t always see forgiveness.  That’s what made this case unique.

The case was principally handled by Jeb Butler, Tom Giannotti, and Melody Walker.

About Rosie Minor

Rosie Minor was a special person.  At 76 years old, she was continuing her life’s work of lifting other people up.  While raising four children essentially on her own, she’d had a successful career managing a region of 7-Eleven convenience stores and had been featured in Ebony Magazine for her achievements.  Now retired, Mrs. Minor dedicated herself to improving the lives of everyone around her.  Every weekday morning at 7:00am, Mrs. Minor led a prayer line – a conference call line where people from around the country called into to pray together, to ask for prayers, or just to listen.  Every Thursday at 8:00pm, she led a Bible study group called Study the Word.  She served on the Mothers’ Board at Clarkston First Baptist Church in Clarkston, Georgia.  She was an ordained minister.  She had special passes from the Department of Corrections that allowed her to enter prisons and pray with inmates.  She founded Positive Growth, a mentorship program for boys in her community.  She was active with the Atlanta Mission, a home for women in need in the Atlanta area.  She had founded Damascus Road Ministries and Straight Street Ministries, two nonprofits that served her community.  Mrs. Minor was adored by her four children, her nine grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren.

So when a speeding driver took her life, the loss hit Mrs. Minor’s family and her community hard.  Our firm was hired by Staci Green, one of Mrs. Minor’s surviving daughters, and by Eric Minor, Mrs. Minor’s surviving husband, to look into the claim.  The family was emotional and upset.

 

Car Accident and Wrongful Death

Mrs. Minor was making a left turn from Memorial Drive onto Hearthstone Drive in south DeKalb County.  She had the circle green light.  When Mrs. Minor started her turn, it appeared that she had plenty of time to clear the intersection safely.  But it turned out that she didn’t – an approaching car, driven by Ms. Nikia Cherry, was heading straight down Memorial Drive in the opposite direction.  The black-box download of Ms. Cherry’s car would later show that Ms. Cherry was driving 73mph in this 45mph zone.  Some eyewitnesses also said that Ms. Cherry was swerving around another vehicle, and when we obtained Ms. Cherry’s phone records, they suggested that she was on the phone at the time of the collision.  So just when Mrs. Minor’s car was about to clear the intersection, the front of Ms. Cherry’s car struck it in the side.  Mrs. Minor’s car careened into a telephone pole.  She sustained massive internal injuries and died in a hospital the next day.

When our firm took the case, we got to work figuring out what had happened.  We inspected the scene of the collision and both vehicles.  We hired experts in accident reconstruction and in human factors.  We obtained the black box download (“EDR”) from Ms. Cherry’s vehicle, security camera footage from a nearby house that had captured part of the collision, and interviewed every witness we could find.  Then we worked with a computer graphics company to create an animation of how we believed the collision had occurred.

 

Litigating the Car Accident Case

Winning the case wasn’t going to be easy.  Mrs. Minor had made a left turn in front of an oncoming car, so the initial police report listed Mrs. Minor as being at fault for the collision.  When we demanded the full insurance limits from Ms. Cherry’s car insurance company, Allstate did not accept our demand.  The litigation fight got started.

The battle lasted for years.  After Allstate failed to accept our offer and it became evident that this was going to be a hard fight, the defense brought in a new law firm to defend Ms. Cherry.  Russell Davis and Drew Curtright, two very good defense attorneys, entered appearances on Ms. Cherry’s behalf.  They hired their own accident reconstruction expert.  They argued that because Mrs. Minor and Ms. Cherry both had the circle green light and because Mrs. Minor was turning left while Ms. Cherry was going straight, Ms. Cherry had the right-of-way.  They argued that Mrs. Minor had failed to yield.  We argued that the collision never would have happened if Ms. Cherry hadn’t been speeding and changing lanes, and that Ms. Cherry was distracted by talking on her phone.  Both parties took depositions, exchanged evidence, and filed motions.

Time of collision (top), Ms. Cherry’s cell phone records (bottom).

At last the case went to trial in the State Court of DeKalb County before Judge Kimberly Alexander.  Judge Alexander was fair to both sides and allowed both sides to argue their points to the jury.  The trial began on a Monday with jury selection.  Our firm presented witnesses on behalf of the Minor family all day Tuesday and on Wednesday morning.  On Wednesday afternoon, Ms. Cherry’s lawyers presented their witnesses.  On Thursday morning, the parties gave closing arguments.  By Thursday afternoon, the jury was back in the jury room, deliberating on the case and working on their decision.

The trial was emotional for everyone.  Throughout the trial Staci Green, Mrs. Minor’s daughter, sat with Butler Kahn attorneys Jeb Butler and Tom Giannotti at the table in front of the jury.  Staci had to hear hard facts about her mother’s last moments on earth and see video footage from the scene of the collision.  She and another of Mrs. Minor’s daughters, Ginger Chubbs, testified about what kind of person their mother had been.  Eric Minor also testified about Mrs. Minor, his late wife.  Two people from Clarkston First Baptist Church, Reverend Moore and Mother Allison Frazier, testified about her involvement with the church.  Jeb ended his closing argument by playing a recording from Mrs. Minor’s prayer line for the jury – it was a recording from the prayer that Mrs. Minor had offered on the morning of the collision to show the jury how much Mrs. Minor loved her life.

Everyone in the courtroom knew that Mrs. Minor had been a special person.  During the weeks leading up to the trial, Staci had told Jeb, “if my mother was still alive, she would open her door to Nikia Cherry and invite her over for dinner.”  As the witnesses shared their memories of Mrs. Minor, we came to understand what Staci meant.

Wrongful Death Settlement and (Almost) Verdict

The jury had been deliberating for about two hours when Allstate’s lawyer called.  It had taken almost three years – until the jury was actually deliberating – for Allstate to get serious about the case, but they finally made a substantial offer.  They offered to settle for $9 million.  (We suspect that the reason they got serious was because of the work of mediator Cade Parian, who stayed engaged with the case even after the mediation had ended.)  Jeb and Tom talked with Staci and Eric about Allstate’s offer.  We thought the jury would probably come back in our clients’ favor, but we couldn’t be certain.  Jeb called Allstate back and made a counteroffer of $10 million.  Allstate accepted, and so the case ended with a settlement for $10 million.

Judge Alexander went back to the jury room and told the jurors that the case was settled, that their duties were over, and that they could talk to the lawyers informally if they wanted to.  And they did – eleven of the jurors came into the courtroom and stayed to talk with us lawyers.  The foreperson and several other jurors told us that they had been ten seconds away from submitting the verdict that they had already agreed upon.  The verdict was for the Minor family in the amount of $23 million, with 75% of the fault placed on Ms. Cherry and 25% on Mrs. Minor.

For most cases, that is where the story would end – but not this case.

 

Forgiveness

The loss of a loved one brings strong emotions.  Grief and anger for the decedent’s family.  Fear and resentment for the person accused of causing the collision.  In this case, the legacy of Mrs. Rosie Minor proved stronger than all of that.

Early in the trial – even before the witnesses had testified, the lawyers had argued, or Allstate had gotten serious about settling – Staci Green and Nikia Cherry had met in the hall.  Coming to the courthouse was an emotional experience for both of them.  We lawyers didn’t find out about it until a few hours later, but Staci and Nikia had talked in the hallway outside the courtroom.  Nikia apologized.  Staci forgave her.  They hugged.

After the trial was over, they talked again.  Nikia had decided to call into the prayer line, which Staci had kept going in the years after her mother’s death.  Nikia had some healing to do and some personal issues to address, and Staci had agreed to mentor her.  Staci (without talking with her lawyers about it first 😊 ) announced to Judge Alexander that she would be mentoring Nikia and asked what rehabilitation services might be available through the Court.  We were all moved.  Butler Kahn’s paralegal on the case, Melody Walker, decided that she would call into the prayer line too.  One of the defense attorneys told Staci that the stories he had heard of Mrs. Minor had renewed his own religious faith and inspired him to become a better person.

At 7:00a on Friday morning, Nikia Cherry called into the prayer line and prayed with Staci.  Two days later, Staci hired an Uber to pick Nikia up on Sunday morning and take her to Clarkston First Baptist Church – where Mrs. Minor had attended – for services with Reverend Moore.  Nikia brought her children.  Mother Allison Frazier, who had testified at the trial on Mrs. Minor’s behalf, met Nikia and her family at the door and welcomed her.

The Cherry family joined the church as members.

Staci says that somewhere in heaven, her mother is smiling.

 

Jeb Butler
Jeb Butler’s career as a Georgia trial lawyer has led to a $150 million verdict in a product liability case against Chrysler for a dangerous vehicle design that caused the death of a child, a $45 million settlement for a young man who permanently lost the ability to walk and talk, and numerous other verdicts and settlements, many of which are confidential at the defendant’s insistence. Jeb has worked on several cases that led to systemic changes and improvements in public safety. He has been repeatedly recognized as a Georgia SuperLawyer and ranks among Georgia’s legal elite. Jeb graduated in the top 10% of his class at UGA Law, argued on the National Moot Court team, and published in the Law Review. He is the founding partner of Butler Kahn law firm. Connect with me on LinkedIn

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