Most drivers on the road make a conscious effort to adopt safe driving habits, not just to ensure their safety but also to safeguard their loved ones and fellow drivers on the road. However, sometimes safe driving isn’t enough to keep us out of harm’s way, especially when a negligent driver is behind the wheel of a heavy, commercial vehicle. In this case study, we will examine a collision caused by a reckless semi-truck driver. The victim of the crash sought legal help from Joye Law Firm after his case was turned down by another local firm. However, the victim knew that he had a case and wanted to not only recover the damages that the collision caused, but to also hold the at-fault driver responsible. Attorney Robert Howell of our North Charleston office gladly took on the case with assistance from Case Manager Brittany Kearley.
Impatient Truck Driver Wreaks Havoc on I-26
On September 16, 2021, our client, who will remain unnamed to protect their privacy, was driving westbound on I-26 in his personal Nissan pickup truck. He was driving in the left lane, at a safe speed for the conditions, when he noticed an International 18-wheeler behind him in the distance weaving in and out of traffic. As the truck approached, our client decided the safest choice was to remain in his lane at the speed he was traveling. After unsuccessfully attempting to pass on the right, the truck driver got directly behind our client and began laying on his horn. In an egregious act of reckless driving, the truck driver rammed the back of our client’s pickup near the Jedburg Rd. exit. After the violent collision, our client somehow managed to pull over safely. He exited his pickup truck and called 911. The truck driver also got out of his truck, but when he realized our client was on the phone with the police, he immediately got back into his cab and sped away, almost causing another accident as he fled the scene. Luckily, our quick-thinking client was able to obtain the truck’s DOT number. When the police arrived on the scene, they contacted the trucking company’s owner, who was also the reckless driver’s father. The defendant fled the crash so quickly that he had already made it to his home in Orangeburg. He returned to the scene at the police’s request in a personal vehicle.
Permanent Spinal Injuries Require Surgery
When the semi-truck rammed into the back of our client’s pickup, he hit the tow hitch, rather than the truck’s body panels. While this left little visible property damage, it meant that the force from the collision was not absorbed by the vehicle’s crumple zone, but instead, the force was redirected into the victim’s body. On the same day as the crash, our client went to the Moncks Corner Medical Center with complaints of severe neck, back, and shoulder pain. After a few weeks, our client realized he was not improving and sought treatment with a local orthopedic practice. He received an MRI in November, which revealed a disc protrusion at C6-C7 producing central canal stenosis. The MRI also showed a central disc protrusion at C4-C5 with focal flattening of the spinal cord, as well as bilateral C4 neural foraminal stenosis due to spur formation. The MRI on his left shoulder showed a thinned subscapularis tendon, which was suggestive of a partial-thickness tear affecting the biceps pully and showed medial dislocation of the long-head biceps tendon. After 11 months of physical therapy, injections, and other intensive treatment, his Orthopedic Surgeon determined that his only chance at improvement would require him to undergo major back surgery. Our client went under the knife to receive an anterior lumbar interbody fusion at L5-S1 with posterior decompression, screw rods, instrumented fusion, and posterolateral. It is a difficult surgery and a grueling recovery process.
Because of the recklessness of another driver, our client’s quality of life suffered greatly both personally and professionally. Before the wreck, he was an avid sport fisherman, competition shooter, and bow hunter. Sadly, due to his new physical limitations, he had to completely forgo all the activities that had previously brought him so much joy. His career was impacted, too. Before the accident, he made a good living as a professional welder. However, the constant pain he experienced as a result of the wreck, meant he was no longer able to do such a labor-intensive job. He was forced to take on a sedentary role, decreasing his wages dramatically.
$1,000,000 Liability Policy Provides Hope
Commercial trucks in South Carolina are required to carry an insurance liability policy of a minimum of $750,000. Atty. Howell researched the company’s policy and also searched for any additional umbrella policies that the trucking company may have purchased. He was able to identify that the driver who rammed into our client had a $1,000,000 policy through Auto-Owners Insurance Company available to recoup our client’s losses.
At Joye Law Firm, we believe that when a client hires our firm, they don’t just hire the attorney assigned to their case, they hire our entire firm. Our attorneys work together to estimate the possible value of a case, and when this case went before our entire team of personal injury lawyers, they all agreed that this was an injury deserving of going after the entire policy’s limits.
Atty. Howell sent a formidable demand letter requiring that the defense’s insurance provider pay the entire policy. In the demand, he outlined the uphill battle that the defendant’s insurance company would have to face if they did not pay the policy in full.
Upon receipt of the demand, the defendant’s insurance company hired a local defense attorney who immediately tried to pick apart our client’s case. The attorney asked for an extension and requested authorization to view our client’s medical history for the past 5-10 years. This is a common practice that a victim might experience during settlement negotiations when the defendant is trying to deny or lowball their claim. The goal is to find a preexisting condition in the client’s medical records that the defense could point to as not being from the accident. However, Atty. Howell was ready for their tricks. He knew the search would come back with no prior ailments that could be used to reduce his client’s settlement offer.
Positive Outcome Creates a New Friendship
After several more months, the insurance company finally agreed to tender the $1,000,000 liability policy in full. This turn of events was a relief for our client. However, Atty. Howell did not stop there. After the accident, our client purchased health insurance to help cover future medical expenses. Initially, the insurance company was not willing to cover the cost of surgery, but Atty. Howell continued to fight for his client and was able to get the client’s health insurance to decrease the lien by $50,000. This enabled our client to increase the amount of the settlement that he could keep. A very important outcome for him as the job he had to take after the accident paid significantly less than his old welding job. “I wish my client was back to how he was before the accident, but I’m proud that we got him the best possible outcome,” reflects Atty. Howell.
Atty. Howell has a laid-back and friendly demeanor, but he takes his cases very seriously. After years of working together to resolve the case, Atty. Howell says he still keeps in touch with his client and has spent time with him outside of the office participating in activities they both enjoy. Through this case, he not only helped a person who had suffered an immense loss, but he also gained a friend.