October 10th, 2014|
by Andrew Young, Esq.
Eight stone-carved figures, 43 feet tall, are located in pairs at the four corners of Cleveland’s Lorain-Carnegie bridge. These art deco figures, known as the “Guardians of Traffic,” stood watch as the events of November 14, 2010, unfolded at the bridge’s crest.
A dump truck made a lane change directly in front of a Honda Accord, causing the Honda driver to steer left in an attempt to avoid a collision. The Honda’s front bumper and hood narrowly missed the dump truck, but its front-right “A” Pillar caught the back left corner of the dump truck bed. It penetrated the passenger compartment and pierced the skull of our 18-year-old client. The Honda’s passenger-side roof then crushed down upon the 16-year-old girl sitting behind our client. Miraculously, our client survived an open skull fracture that destroyed more than a third of his brain and left him with severe cognitive and functional impairments. The teen girl also survived, but with a traumatic brain injury resulting in permanent cognitive deficits. The Honda driver and another teen in the car were not injured, nor was the dump truck driver.
The two versions of how the accident happened were worlds apart. The Honda driver’s version was that the dump truck cut him off, then stepped on the brakes. The dump truck driver’s version was that he changed lanes from the passing lane into the curb lane far in advance of the Honda, and that the Honda was speeding. The police did not perform an accident reconstruction, but accepted the dump truck driver’s version of events; and, on their recommendation, the prosecutor’s office charged the Honda driver with two counts of aggravated vehicular assault. Faced with two felony charges, the Honda driver, who had no alcohol or drugs in his system and no criminal past, accepted the advice of his public defender and pled guilty to a misdemeanor of negligent assault.
This made the case against the dump truck driver more difficult, but far from insurmountable. The jury was instructed that the guilty plea was an admission of negligence that could be rebutted by other evidence. Our rebuttal evidence included the testimony of an accident reconstructionist, who concluded that the physical evidence best matched the Honda driver’s testimony and that the dump truck driver was at fault. The case ultimately came down to the credibility of the drivers and a battle of the experts.
The Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) handbook also helped make the case against the dump truck driver, who possessed a Class B license. The CDL handbook counsels drivers to (1) keep a proper lookout; (2) understand what they see; (3) move only when it is safe; and (4) avoid becoming the hazard. The dump truck driver violated each of these rules.
After a two week trial, the jury returned a verdict of $34.6 million for our client ($8.2 million economic and $26.4 million noneconomic damages). I was fortunate to act as the lead attorney throughout the trial, and grateful to have been able to assist this profoundly injured young man. My partner, Tom Mester, and outside co-counsel, Patrick Merrick, were also on the case.