On August 11, 2018, a sudden and significant burst of rain caused several accidents on I-81 in Rockbridge County, Virginia. The accident at issue involved a chain reaction collision involving five vehicles. A Western Express tractor-trailer was the last vehicle in the collision series to rear-end Plaintiff’s work van. Plaintiff suffered serious injuries, including a spinal fracture and an uncontested moderate traumatic brain injury (“TBI”) with subdural bleeding. His uncontested medical damages totaled $337,000.
Plaintiff alleged a variety of permanent ailments arising from his TBI. He sued for over 10 million dollars and refused to negotiate a settlement for a reasonable amount of damages. Liability was contested, as was the permanence of Plaintiff’s injuries. Gentry Locke argued that Western Express’s driver was not negligent in reacting to the sudden rainstorm that moved through the area and highlighted the fact that the driver hit the brakes before his truck’s technology recognized a collision was imminent.
The parties tried the case to a jury in the Lynchburg Division of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia in April 2023. The parties conducted extensive pre-trial motions practice, which led to Judge Norman Moon dismissing plaintiff’s negligent hiring and retention claims and excluding his trucking industry expert and weather expert. The court allowed Plaintiff’s negligence and punitive damage claims to go to the jury.
Plaintiff put on evidence for three-and-a-half days. He presented an accident reconstruction expert, Heath Stewart, and witnesses to the accident in support of his liability claim. Plaintiff’s damages case was led by neuro-psychiatrist, Dr. Gregory O’Shanick, who opined that Plaintiff suffered a permanent brain injury resulting in diminished capacity and that he would need a future brain surgery, costing over $135,000. Plaintiff took the stand for his only appearance at trial, opting not to be present for any other portions of the trial. Plaintiff’s wife supported his testimony on the effects of his injuries on their everyday lives.
Gentry Locke’s Civil Defense Litigation team presented their evidence in a streamlined fashion, calling our own accident reconstruction expert, James Whelan, and several eyewitnesses, including two impartial “good Samaritans” who confirmed the defense claim that the weather went from clear and sunny to a downpour within a matter of seconds. On the damages side, we presented neuropsychologist, Dr. Edward Peck, to address plaintiff’s successful recovery on all objective measures, followed by a neurologist, Dr. Seth Tuwiner, to sum up the brain injury medicine and confirm that the future surgery recommendation was neither necessary nor medically sound.
At the close of the evidence, Plaintiff asked the jury to award approximately 10 million dollars. The jury deliberated for just over an hour before returning a complete defense verdict of no liability for Western Express’s driver. Ashley Winsky led Gentry Locke’s trial team with assistance from Jeff Miller and Guy Harbert along with excellent work from staff members and other attorneys in the Civil Defense Litigation practice group and across the firm.