$1,478,000 for Off duty police officer hit by tractor trailer truck
A jury verdict was awarded to a 41 year old police officer injured off duty in his own parked car when a tractor trailer hit the officer’s open driver’s side door, forcing the car up onto the sidewalk. While initially refusing treatment, the officer eventually had a two level lower back fusion surgery that he asserted forced him into a premature retirement after twenty years of exemplary service to his department and community.
The nearly unanimous verdict came after 3 weeks of trial in which the defendant’s attorney (newly hired to take over the trial from the insurance company’s usual “in-house“ attorneys) threw up every defense heard repeatedly in personal injury litigation and some heard more particularly in truck accident litigation. Instead of admitting that the tractor trailer driver violated common rules of the road and rules of public safety for commercial motor vehicles, the defense attempted to focus the jury’s attention on the plaintiff and “blame the victim” for the incident.
The collision occurred as our client was entering his parked car and when he had almost completely closed the driver’s side door. The street was a one way, narrow street made even narrower by the presence of a double parked car ahead and to the left of the point of impact. The tractor trailer driver chose to drive down the narrow and obstructed street, left the center of the roadway and drove right up against the client’s car as the driver’s door was being shut. The impact to the client’s door forced his car onto the adjacent sidewalk.
Among the defense’s arguments was that “if the door wasn’t open there would not have been an accident.” Trial counsel Mike Lizzi warned the jury not to fall for the trick argument that says: if you take away the victim, you take away the problem. The defense might as well have been blaming a pedestrian for walking in a cross walk at the wrong time and getting hit by a driver running a red light!
The defense also set up a series of what might be termed “dualities” to confuse and muddy up a case that was basically about right and wrong. So the defense argued there was a difference between “opening versus closing a door,” a difference between an “impact to the tractor versus the trailer” and a difference between whether the client was “entering or leaving his car.” In a fit of conjecture and without any support in the evidence, the defense even accused the client of “having forgotten something” and therefore having suddenly opened the door into the trailer.
When it came to the client’s injuries, the defense likewise refused to take responsibility for the consequences of the tractor trailer driver’s bad choices. The client had suffered an injury to his back, had been made to undergo lower back surgery, was forced to return in pain when the surgery proved unsuccessful, and was forced to witness the impact this had on his young wife and child. Before the collision, the client had been a cherished member of the police department’s Emergency Services Unit (ESU) and was recognized for his many acts of heroism. In the face of this and roughly 20 years of active service, the defense attempted to blame his life-altering medical condition on a chronic history of back pain where there was almost nothing to show in the way of previous back pain or treatment. The defense also argued the client had hurt his back while furniture was being moved in his home after the collision. When blaming the client’s problems on something other than the collision proved too weak an argument, they argued that he wasn’t hurt in the first place because the impact was a low speed impact, the client delayed getting treated and the surgery was unnecessary in any event.
To literally add insult to injury, the defense then hired someone to place the client under video surveillance…during the three weeks of trial. Instead of being a revelation, the videos showed the client in his very empty and quiet life with occasional efforts to put out light bags of garbage.
Justice thankfully did prevail in the long run. The result came after years of assembling and utilizing a team of experts in accident reconstruction, trucking regulation and physicians and years of skillful and persistent lawyering and advocacy. After the verdict, the client was able to pick up the pieces of his life and start anew.