Richmond, VA. Setting the record for the longest-running and most complex motor vehicle accident claim ever handled by Joe Miller, and likely many other attorneys as well, Mr. Miller was recently able to negotiate settlement for the client who was injured eight years ago, avoiding the necessity of facing a very uncertain outcome at a Jury trial.
We will try to summarize the extremely long and complex facts. It would make for a very interesting novel indeed. Because the settlement is confidential, pseudonyms and altered locations are being used.
We would recommend you read this only if you are interested in reading about this sort of legal wrangling. If you are not interested, you may find it kind of boring.
On a spring evening back in 2008, Jennie Blanchard was riding in the back of her husband’s pickup truck, heading home along with her husband after retrieving their son from his first year of college near Farmville, VA. Jennie, a nurse, had undergone back surgery three years prior, but still suffered from soreness and pain. She was taking a lot of medicine to relieve her pain.
As they waited at a traffic light, suddenly, a car came careening across the median and smashed into the pickup truck. The impact tossed Ms. Blanchard around in the back of the vehicle. The truck was not drivable from the scene. Despite the pain she was in, Ms. Blanchard elected to wait until she returned home to Portsmouth, VA to seek treatment for her back. She was worried that she had she disturbed her fusion surgery and hardware in her back. She was scared.
Insurance information was obtained at the scene, but it was later determined that the policy of Mr. Paul Jones, the driver who had hit the Blanchards, was not in effect at the time of the accident. But—there was another piece of policy information provided to Ms. Blanchard’s husband at the scene, information taken by the State Trooper who investigated the accident—a commercial insurance company called Acme Insurance.
Acme Insurance Pays the Property Damage
Well, Mr. Blanchard started making some calls which eventually led him to Acme Insurance Company and Paul Jensen, an insurance adjuster with Acme, who confirmed that the driver of the vehicle that had hit them, Mr. Jones, worked for a multinational corporation, World Dom, Inc. In fact, after receiving a copy of the accident report, Paul Jensen authorized payment of the substantial repairs to Mr. Blanchard’s pick-up truck and cut a check.
The Spinal Implant Stimulator—and Disappointment
Meanwhile, Mrs. Blanchard was hurting. She had suffered substantial bruising over her low back in the collision, the same area where she had her previous back surgery. She had spoken to her pain doctor about getting off of the tremendous amounts of narcotics she needed to take just to function at work and sleep at night. It was decided she would try implantation of a device known as a spinal cord stimulator.
But first, she needed to undergo a partial implant to see if it would help her. Great news—it did! She got substantial relief from the stimulator trial implant. Now it was on to the permanent implant.
But before that could occur, her surgeon needed to take some MRI’s to make sure there were no major changes to her back situation.
Well, after reviewing her films, the neurosurgeon had some bad news. It appeared that Mrs. Blanchard’s back had become much worse. The surrounding structures supporting the spine had weakened, and her disc in the area of the previous operation had become herniated and was pressing up against her spinal cord. This was because of angulation, meaning the spinal processes were not lying on top of each other properly.
Before any stimulator implant could be considered, her back fusion would need to be extended upward, to give her lumbar spine proper support, and to repair and to remove the offending disc and fuse the spine in that area.
Mrs. Blanchard wondered: could the collision I was in a few months ago have caused this problem in her low back? She showed the neurosurgeon the bruise photos taken after the accident with Mr. Jones. “Yes”, said the neurosurgeon, “and you should get a lawyer.”
Several months later, after recovering from the new fusion surgery, Mrs. Blanchard was ready to undergo her permanent stimulator implant. Unfortunately, because the fusion was extended upward on her back, the electrodes from the implant were not able to be implanted in the same area of her spine as in the trial. As a result, she never received any relief from the implant. Within a few months, she simply turned it off. It was doing no good. Within about 3 years, she had it surgically removed.
The Legal Insanity Begins
Meanwhile, while all this was going on, our firm filed a lawsuit on Mrs. Blanchard’s behalf against the driver, Mr. Jones, as well as against his employer, World Dom, Inc., since the law says that if he was employed and acting in the course and scope of his job at the time of the accident, World Dom would also be liable.
Then, things began to get strange. First, no one could find Mr. Paul Jones. He had simply disappeared. Investigators were hired. He was nowhere to be found. Even stranger, despite paying the property damage on Mr. Blanchard’s truck, World Dom, Inc. responded in the law suit that they did not, in fact, employ Mr. Jones, and never had, neither did they own the vehicle he was driving at the time of the accident.
Enter another player into this insane party: Country Farm Insurance. They provided Uninsured Motorist (UM) Coverage to Mrs. Blanchard in the amount of $300,000.00. So if Mr. Jones could not be found, and if he was not, in fact, an employee of World Dom, Inc., then Country Farm Insurance was going to be on the hook for some or all of that $300,000.00. So Country Farm hired lawyers who fought like crazy to try to prove that Mr. Jones did, in fact, work for World Dom, Inc.
Volleys and fights ensued, primarily between Country Farm and World Dom, Inc. and their attorneys and the attorneys for the insurance company for World Dom, Inc. Meanwhile, because we obtained legal process through the Commonwealth of Virginia against Mr. Jones—and he had absconded and was nowhere to be found—we were able to get a Default Judgement against him.
And the legal wrangling continued. Country Farm filed Motions and we filed Motions aimed to get to the bottom of this vehicle ownership and any records in relation to Mr. Jones. If he did not work for World Dom, Inc, why did World Dom’s insurance company pay the property damage on the claim? It made no sense. World Dom, Inc. would only provide incomplete documents. The Judge got mad at them.
The First Jury Verdict
Finally, we brought it to a head. The legal wrangling had to stop. Years had passed while the Parties fought amongst each other, and Mrs. Blanchard had gotten worse. She had lost her job as a nurse due to her pain. A Jury was going to hear, and decide once and for all in a special legal hearing, if World Dom employed Mr. Jones—or not. If not, then Country Wide Insurance would be left in the case alone. And if he was an employee at time of the accident, then World Dom, Inc. was going to be on the hook and Country Wide would walk away.
Well, World Dom’s lawyers were apparently so confident in their ability to prove that Mr. Jones didn’t work for them that they made no further efforts to find Mr. Jones. So he did not appear at the trial.
The Jury found that Mr. Jones was, in fact, an employee of World Dom, Inc. And because Mr. Jones could not be found, there was no evidence one way or the other whether he had acted in the course and scope of his employment so—the Jury was instructed to assume that as proven if they found that Mr. Jones was an employee of World Dom.
World Dom Tries to Undo the Verdict
Shortly after the victory against World Dom, we set the case for trial. In their arrogance in thinking they would easily exit the case, World Dom’s attorneys had engaged in no discovery in relation to our damages. As mentioned previously, Ms. Blanchard had become much worse. Now, in addition to the cost of the additional surgery and removal of the stimulator implant, because she could no longer work as a nurse, we had proof of loss of substantial wages, as well as at least some of her huge future medical costs attributable to the accident.
Our expert cutoff was due and in the fall, we presented our expert evidence of over $1 Million in potential damages. We also filed a Motion to Increase the amount we were asking for to $3 Million, to take into account pain and suffering as well.
When they received this information, World Dom and their lawyers freaked out. They immediately spent more money on a better investigator, and within two weeks of our expert disclosure, they (surprise!) found Mr. Jones, who had been living out-of- State.
And of course, Mr. Jones was ready to say that he never, ever worked for World Dom, Inc.
But it was about to get much, much crazier.
World Dom raises a Medical Emergency Defense and Tries to Undo the Jury Verdict
In addition to claiming he had never worked for World Dom, Inc, in an affidavit, Mr. Jones stated that he had suffered a seizure just prior to the accident, passed out, and had no memory of the collision. He also revealed the identity and location of his good friend, Monica Leslie, who had been in the vehicle with him. Monica was also going to support his version of events, namely that Mr. Jones had suddenly passed out.
In addition, World Dom’s lawyers tried to up-end the jury verdict where the jury had spoken and stated that he was an employee of World Dom. “It would be a travesty of justice,” they argued, for the case to proceed as if he was, in fact, an employee of World Dom, when he clearly was not.
One Win, One Loss
Well, as a result of these Motions and legal wrangling, the trial date had to be pushed off. We had hearings on these issues, but the Judge didn’t buy World Dom’s argument to re-open the Jury trial. “You had your chance to find Mr. Jones for many years,” said the Judge to World Dom. “Unless you can prove that there was something that you did recently to find him that you absolutely had no way to do before that jury verdict, the jury verdict find that he was your employee is going to stand.”
So World Dom was still on the hook, and Country Farm was still out.
But one issue remained. Didn’t we get a default Judgement against Mr. Jones? How can anyone now bring up this Medical Emergency Defense? At first, even the Judge thought that, and said it was his understanding that the trial was going to be on damages only.
But it was not to be. You see this Default Judgement was against Mr. Jones. But it was not against World Dom. World Dom had answered all the pleadings on time. They were not in default. So we could not use the fact that we got a default Judgement against Mr. Jones against World Dom. This sudden medical emergency issue was therefore going to have to be dealt with.
Things Are Not As They Seem
So a new date for trial was picked and the Parties proceeded to the next stage of the case, namely, depositions. Lots and lots of depositions. Depositions of doctors, depositions of witnesses, and depositions of Mrs. Blanchard’s former bosses. “How did she do at work? How can she say she’s disabled when she was a star employee?”
Meanwhile, we subpoenaed the Medical records of Mr. Jones the driver who said he had suffered a sudden medical emergency and that’s why he slammed into Mr. & Mrs. Blanchard’s truck. And we came to find out that this “medical emergency” was not so “sudden.”
After the accident, Mr. Jones underwent surgery to remove several huge tumors that had been growing around his heart. This, apparently, was the cause of him passing out. Well, we came to find out that these tumors didn’t form overnight and Mr. Jones knew all about them. Moreover, Mr. Jones had been having episodes of chest pain, dizziness, and passing out for years before this collision. He knew all about these medical problems, but because he had a steady job, he obviously did not want his driver’s license taken away, as it was after this collision. So he kept it as quiet as he could.
Finally, Negotiation and Settlement
As we approached trial, both sides knew there were issues. Although we felt pretty good about the Jury not liking Mr. Jones’ medical emergency defense, the easiest thing for a jury to do is to say ‘no.’ All they had to do is say that he passed out, it was sudden, and he wasn’t responsible. That would be it and they wouldn’t have to figure up any damages or discuss the testimony of any other witness.
But that was not the only danger. Mrs. Blanchard’s surgeon, the one who actually recommended that she see an attorney—refused to provide an opinion or testify. We were forced to rely on paid experts to support our case. And the best we could really come up with was that the injuries were aggravated, not actually caused by the car accident. And of course, the defense had a doctor ready to testify that at best, Mrs. Blanchard had merely suffered a back sprain, for which she should have only treated for a couple of months. None of her later surgeries, nor the fact that she had to leave her profession as a nurse had anything to do with the car accident. Given the horrible condition of her back before the accident, these things would have occurred in any event—even without the car accident.
Despite these challenges, we readied our case, prepared our witnesses and moved forward to try Ms. Blanchard’s case. Besides, there was no option to resolve the matter as no money had been offered.
In consultation with our experts, we hired a medical illustration company, who, based on the MRI’s of Mrs. Blanchard’s back from both before and after the collision, were able to dramatically illustrate the level of change inside Mrs. Blanchard’s spine which had occurred as a result of the collision.
We also obtained a heart doctor to fight the medical emergency defense who was ready to say that Mr. Jones should have known that he had a serious condition and had no business driving a car at the time of the accident. With those gigantic tumors where they were, on either side of his heart, he was likely suffering weekly, if not daily episodes of dizziness. He should not have been driving.
Well, within about a month of trial, offers of settlement began to come from World Dom’s attorneys.
We finally resolved the matter a few weeks away from trial for six figures.
Mrs. Blanchard, recognizing the potential of obtaining a $0.00 verdict, was very pleased that we were able to negotiate a six figure verdict on her behalf.
Even though it took eight years, and even though nothing can change the fact that Mrs. Blanchard still hurts—something positive did finally come from all the legal wrangling.