Back in January 2021, the quiet serenity that’s typical of a late evening in Mauldin, South Carolina, was shattered by a harrowing crash that would leave an indelible mark on the lives of those involved.
This case study delves into the tragic events that unfolded that night, the profound injuries suffered by the victim, and the relentless pursuit of justice by Joye Law Firm on behalf of the victims of this devastating collision. The case was taken on by a team from our Columbia and upstate offices. Attorney Melissa Mosier took the lead with assistance from Attorney Davis Rice, and Litigation Paralegal Alicia Parler.
A Drunk Driver Changes the Trajectory of Multiple Lives
The night of the crash, our client was driving home from work. He had just gotten off the phone with his wife and was only ten minutes from his home when he saw headlights from a pickup truck barreling toward him from the oncoming lane.
Earlier that same evening, the man driving the pickup truck had also finished work. Then, after having a few drinks, he went to a local bar to continue drinking. After closing out his tab, he made the fateful decision to climb behind the wheel of his company-issued truck.
The roadway where the crash occurred is a 35-mph speed zone. However, the defendant was traveling at almost double that rate when he crashed into our client, nearly killing him. In fact, the evidence from the defendant’s vehicle’s on board computer showed he was traveling at 58 miles per hour 5 seconds before the crash, and accelerated to 65 mph less than half a second before the collision.
Our client’s on board computer showed the opposite. He decelerated from the 40 mph he had been driving, to 18 mph half a second before the collision. It also showed he’d swerved onto the shoulder, clearly demonstrating that he did everything he could to avoid the oncoming car. Tragically, the crash was imminent. The panic and horror he felt at that moment was overwhelming. He was just ten minutes from home, but would he ever see his wife again?
The defendant slammed into our client’s driver’s side door. Given the gross mismatch between the size and height of the vehicles, the impact sent our client’s vehicle spinning under the bridge, hitting a pillar. The impact with our client’s car was not enough to stop the speeding truck, however. He then hit the pickup truck that was traveling behind our client head-on. Smoke, glass, and crumbled metal littered the roadway as the sounds of emergency sirens pierced the winter night’s cold air. How could anyone have survived that impact?
At the scene, police immediately suspected that the defendant was under the influence and obtained a search warrant to obtain a blood specimen. Their suspicions were confirmed when the toxicology results revealed a 0.232 blood alcohol level, almost three times the legal limit.
Significant Injuries, Loss of Earnings, and Intangible Losses
Our client was rendered unconscious by the force of the collision, and transported by EMS to Greenville Memorial Hospital ICU. He remained hospitalized for 16 days before being transferred to the Roger C. Peace Center’s Brain Injury program for another week of rehabilitation before he was released.
He suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury accompanied by multiple complex skull fractures. He also suffered multiple rib fractures, a sternal fracture, a left-hand fracture, and acute blood loss anemia. In addition to this, our client suffered permanent hearing loss in his left ear due to the damage done to his temporal lobe. In an effort to restore some of his hearing loss, his doctor performed a Tympanoplasty with Ossicular Chain Reconstruction. Unfortunately, the surgery failed to completely restore his hearing in the left ear, and he will now require a hearing aid for the rest of his life.
Prior to this crash, our client was a healthy 47-year-old who was active in his church, loved to exercise, and was an avid reader. As one would expect, the pain experienced from the multiple broken bones was excruciating – his sternum and rib fractures made every deep breath, cough, sneeze and yawn painful. On top of physical pain and shock came emotional distress and mental anguish. He often thought of the sad and difficult position in which he would be leaving his wife and young child if he didn’t survive, thoughts flooded his mind of all the things he wanted to do and say. At that time, a fire was lit to survive. But he still had a long, hard road ahead of him.
There is also the fear and anxiety that his wife had to cope with all the while putting on a brave face for her daughter, despite not knowing what their future held as her husband lay motionless in a hospital bed connected to monitors and tubes. Our client lost out on what should have been an incredible night taking his daughter to her school Valentine’s dance. Instead, he was trapped in a sterile, lonely rehab facility learning how to speak and walk again. “You only have so much time when your kids are little, and missing that dance devastated our client,” recalls Atty. Mosier.
The financial toll was staggering as well, with medical bills totaling $260,000 at the time of mediation and a loss of approximately $40,000 in earnings due to a 3 ½ month absence from work. It is likely he will also need future care to maintain his sense of hearing.
Building a Case to Prove Negligence of the Defendant’s Employer
When Attorneys Mosier and Rice began to work on this case, they were immediately confronted with the insurance company’s denial of coverage.
Atty. Mosier deposed the defendant and a representative from the defendant’s employer to uncover if he was breaking any rules by using his company-issued vehicle outside of his work duties. Atty. Mosier discovered that the defendant did not have his own vehicle at the time of the crash and that he had exclusively been driving the company vehicle.
The investigation found that there was no written rule at the company that limited the use of their vehicles or attempted to place restrictions on the time, places, or manner in which a vehicle was to be used, except of course that a person should never drive drunk.
The attorneys theorized that the defendant’s employer was also negligent in how the defendant’s employer handled the vetting and supervision of their drivers and fleet of company vehicles: they passed the buck of vetting their drivers to their insurance company. The insurance company ran a background check on the defendant prior to the employer giving him a company vehicle. However, the background check did not reveal a prior DUI, and although the defendant had disclosed it to his employer when he was hired the company simply let their insurance company tell them who to hire. The employer also had a contract for GPS tracking of vehicles with a third-party. For some reason, however, this particular vehicle was not actively being tracked, leaving the employer with no way of verifying if the usage of the vehicle was for work or personal use.
All of the above refuted the employer’s claim that they could not be held responsible for their driver’s actions. Attorneys Mosier and Rice felt confident that any jury who was presented with this evidence would agree that the defendant’s employer acted negligently and had to be held responsible for the damage their employee caused.
Persistence and tenacity Result in the Insurance Company Agreeing to Pay for Harm its Employee Caused in this Crash
Prior to mediation, our attorneys presented a demand stating the evidence found through discovery and depositions. They asserted that the mediation was not to dispute the $1,000,000 available through the company’s liability policy, but instead to determine how much of the company’s umbrella policy would be tendered. “It’s not just about proving liability, some of the most important work that has to be done prior to a mediation is knowing what is available and not settling for anything less than what our client deserves,” explains Atty. Mosier.
The mediation took an entire day and involved an attorney who represented the defendant, as well as, an attorney who represented the defendant’s employer. Atty. Mosier had an extremely detailed presentation which included depositions, medical illustrations, photos from the scene, and much more. “It’s all about the evidence. What can we show that would be brought to light by a jury to show why we would win. If ever there were a case for a significant punitive damages award this would be it. We do not think that the citizens of Greenville County will tolerate driving at a blood alcohol content of nearly 3 times the legal limit, and a company that is all too willing to scapegoat its own employee despite clues that he has and was still struggling with addiction.” Says Atty. Mosier.
Joye Law Firm Succeeds in Securing a $3,000,000 Settlement
While our team was prepared to go to trial to right the wrongs our client faced, the parties were able to come to an agreeable settlement, which resulted in $3,000,000 being awarded to our client.
This particular passage from the demand letter paints a compelling picture of what life is like for our client post-crash. “Although his bone fractures have fused and the scars have healed, the impact of the defendant’s actions continues to affect the victim’s family daily. Today, panic immediately returns to our client’s wife when her husband does not answer the phone as she fears the worst, reliving the events of the crash all over again. For our client, he copes with the frustration of having to read a passage over and over to comprehend its meaning because his concentration is not what it once was. He lives daily with the neuropathic pain in his leg, and the self-consciousness he has wondering if anyone is noticing his strange walking pattern. While we are grateful that our client made it home, everything his family has and continues to go through was all so preventable with just an ounce of care or concern on the defendant and their employer’s part, after all, their vehicle was the defendant’s only mode of transportation.”
When our work as advocates is done our work as advisors begins. To that end Atty. Mosier was adamant that our client seek assistance from a financial advisor after the settlement. Due to the nature of his injuries, it is possible he will need to retire earlier than he would if this tragic crash had not occurred. This settlement will help his family continue to thrive, without fear for their financial future.
This case underscores the profound impact of negligence and recklessness on innocent lives and the imperative role a skilled and tenacious legal team plays in pursuing justice. It serves as a testament to our unwavering commitment to advocating for our clients, seeking not only compensation but also a measure of solace and closure in the face of life’s most daunting challenges.
If you or a loved one have suffered a personal injury due to the negligence of another party, we are here to help. Contact us today for a free consultation and let us be your advocate in your time of need. Together, we can work towards a brighter and safer future.