Richmond jury awards $23M to truck driver
Virginia Lawyers Weekly, March 7, 2011
Key to the case were global positioning and electronic control modules on the truck that Ricky L. Jones hit shortly after 6 a.m. on Nov. 11, 2007, on Interstate 295 about a mile north of the U.S. 301 interchange.
Those devices showed that the truck owned by Moen Inc. had stopped for nine minutes in the emergency lane before pulling out into the right traffic lane at 25 miles per hour. Jones’ rig hit the truck at about 55 miles per hour, according to Richmond attorney P. Christopher Guedri, who represented Jones along with partner Douglas A. Barry.
Rescue personnel took almost two hours to free Jones from the rig and fly him to VCU Medical Center, where physicians put him in a coma when his respiratory and renal systems shut down just after he arrived.
He remained in a coma for several weeks as he was treated for a traumatic brain injury, a crushed pelvis, the amputation of his right leg – conducted in three stages – and a crushed left foot.
Medical experts testified that he suffers from severe depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety attacks.
Jones incurred $1.1 million in medical expenses in undergoing 26 surgical procedures that required general anesthesia. He claimed $1.75 million in past and future lost wages. Guedri presented a life care plan with a present value of $7 million.
Jones’ lawyers called nine board-certified specialists, two psychologists, a nationally recognized life care planner and an economics professor from the University of Richmond to describe Jones’ physical and economic injuries.
Jones did not testify and appeared at the trial in a wheelchair only during voir dire. The nature of his injuries makes it unlikely that he will be able to utilize a prosthesis, experts testified.
Guedri said Jones is prone to anxiety attacks when under stress, and the experts had told him “it was not in his interest to hear testimony about his injuries.”
Jones, 42, had a spotless record as a driver for Super-valu Inc. and worked all the overtime that was available to earn about $70,000 annually, Guedri said. He has been married for 23 years and has 21- and 17-year-old daughters and a 12-year-old son.
Defense attorneys James W. Morris, D. Cameron Beck Jr. and H. Robert Yates III of Charlottesville contended that Jones was contributorily negligent and challenged the extent of the traumatic brain injury but called no experts of their own to contest it or any of Guedri’s experts.
At the end of the week-long trial on the evening of Feb. 28, Morris asked Judge Melvin R. Hughes Jr. to delay entertaining judgement until he could consult with his client about filing post-trial motions. “I’d prefer not to comment while it’s still before Judge Hughes,” Morris said after the jury verdict.
Guedri said a mediator was called in to help resolve the case in April 2010 shortly before a jury trial that ended in a mistrial when two jurors weren’t able to continue hearing the case. At that time Moen and Ace, its insurer, offered $7 million to settle and Guedri demanded $24 million.
Earlier this month, after another mediation session, Moen upped its offer to $10 million and Guedri came down to $22 million. Moen increased the offer to $11 million before trial and $15 million while the jury was out. Guedri countered with $22 million or a high-low offer of $15 million to $28 million, which the defendant rejected.
The case started in an unusual posture. If Jones had filed suit in state court, the case probably would have been removed to federal court because Jones is a Virginia resident and Moen’s headquarters are out of state.
However, a motorist and Virginia resident who was injured when his car crashed after encountering debris from the wreck filed suit against Jones, Supervalu and Moen and its driver in Richmond Circuit Court.
Jones maintained jurisdiction in Richmond, Guedri’s preferred venue, because he and the motorist were both Virginia residents.
Guedri said he was confident enough in the case that he withdrew two instructions after the defense objected to them. One addressed the right of way of the two vehicles and the other said that a plaintiff with no memory of an accident is presumed to have exercised due care.
That confidence was not completely free of doubt, Guedri said, because his client had rear-ended another vehicle and had no recollection of the incident. Winning a substantial verdict for Jones was very important to him, he said because “I’ve never represented a client that I liked more, was more deserving, or whose case I wanted to win more than his.”
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