Last week we obtained a $175,000 jury verdict for a husband and wife that were injured in a three-car accident involving a tractor-trailer and a third car. The husband suffered a complete tear of his rotator cuff, called a “full thickness tear,” and required surgery to repair it. The wife aggravated pre-existing herniated discs in her neck and back, requiring physical therapy and epidural steroid injections.
The tractor-trailer driver and the other driver both blamed our client for the wreck and asked the jury to return a defense verdict. Instead, the jury found the tractor-trailer driver 50% at fault, the third driver 25% at fault and our client who was driving the car 25% at fault. Since the jury found our client 25% at fault, the verdict was reduced by 25%, resulting in a verdict of $131,250 for our clients.
Before trial, the insurance companies for the tractor-trailer company and third driver had offered a combined $95,000 to settle the case so the verdict represented a $36,000 increase over the last pre-trial offer.
The wreck happened at the intersection of the I-85 off-ramp and Jonesboro Road. Our clients were exiting I-85 and stopped at a red light waiting to make a left turn from the off-ramp onto Jonesboro Road. There were two left turn lanes and they were in the left / inside lane. The defendant tractor-trailer was in the right / outside lane and was also stopped waiting to make a left turn. The third car was on Jonesboro Road waiting to make a left turn onto I-85 and had stopped 10-12 feet past the stop line, slightly blocking the intersection and our clients’ lane to make the left turn.
The light turned green and our clients and the tractor-trailer both began making the left turn. During the turn, the trailer came into our clients’ lane, striking their car and pushing it into the third driver’s car.
Challenges At Trial
The case had challenges in proving who was responsible for the wreck and proving our clients’ injuries. First, the third driver claimed that our clients tried to “squeeze through” between her car and the tractor-trailer and should have waited for the tractor-trailer to complete its turn. Second, while the defense didn’t dispute that the husband was injured in the wreck, the defense argued that none of the wife’s injuries were caused by the wreck because she has multiple sclerosis (“MS”), which can cause neck and back pain, and also had a history of chiropractic treatment for neck and back pain before the wreck.
The “Squeeze Through” Defense
To combat the “squeeze through” defense, we showed the jury that the third driver had made a series of inconsistent statements about the wreck.
The police officer who investigated the wreck testified that the third driver hadn’t said anything about “squeezing through” or that our clients should have waited to make the turn. Then we used a statement the third driver gave to an investigator for the tractor-trailer company a week after the wreck. In that statement, the third driver said she didn’t see the accident, didn’t know who was at fault, and that there was “plenty of room” for our clients to complete the turn.
We used these previous statements to show that the third driver’s testimony had changed over time and that she simply wasn’t a credible witness. In interviews with jurors after the trial, they said they didn’t believe the “squeeze through” defense.
Proving Our Clients’ Injuries
We confronted the challenges posed by the wife’s MS and previous chiropractic treatment for neck and back pain head on. In opening statement, we told the jury about both of these issues and that they were going to have a tough decision on whether the wife’s injuries were caused by the wreck.
During trial, we used testimony from our client’s doctors to show that while MS can cause neck and back pain, MS does not cause herniated discs, that herniated discs can cause neck and back pain and that herniated discs can be aggravated by car accidents like this one. We showed the jury that while our client had previously treated with a chiropractor for neck and back pain before the wreck, the pain always went away with treatment. We also showed the jury that the wife has not having any neck or back pain in doctor visits a month before the wreck and a week before the wreck.
Finally, we called several friends and co-workers of our client as witnesses. They all testified our client was healthy and active before the wreck and that after the wreck she really suffered from neck and back problems and was very limited in her activities.
After the trial, several jurors told us that while they had struggled with deciding whether our client’s injuries were caused by the wreck they ultimately decided we had proved they were.