SUCCESS STORY

Taking a Case to Trial During COVID-19

Claims Alleged: Personal Injury/Motor Vehicle Accident

Injuries Alleged: Soft Tissue Injuries (Orthopedic)

Admitted Liability: No

Amount Claimed: $21,000,000

The Overview:

Smith Freed Eberhard attorney Gordon Klug recently achieved an exceptional judgment for his client who was deemed to bear a significantly low degree of liability when Gordon’s client struck another vehicle while traveling 10 mph in freeway traffic.

The Background:

This is a personal injury case where Gordon Klug’s client’s Nissan Sentra collided into the plaintiff’s Jeep Liberty causing soft tissue injuries.  The client rear ended the plaintiff’s vehicle while traveling approximately 10 mph on a freeway.  Nine months later the plaintiff was involved in a much more serious collision where she was rear ended by Defendant #2 who was traveling 35-55 mph.  Ten months after that the plaintiff was rear ended by Defendant #3 going 2-3 mph. 

Following these three accidents the plaintiff was treated extensively for a vast array of orthopedic injuries.  She also claimed that all three Defendants were “jointly and severally liable” for her injuries and damages.  If a plaintiff is successful in proving joint and several liability, each of the defendants against whom judgment is entered will be 100% responsible for all of the plaintiff’s proven damages.  During the course of treatment, the plaintiff’s kidneys failed because of the large amount of ibuprofen she was taking to mask her pain.  This kidney failure caused the plaintiff to be hospitalized for two weeks. The plaintiff’s doctors stated that as a result of all three motor vehicle accidents, she sustained neck and back strains, shoulder strains, thoracic outlet syndrome, a total brain injury, failed kidneys, depression and post traumatic stress disorder.  They also added that her injuries prevented the plaintiff from ever returning to work. 

Plaintiffs Theme:

During the discovery process, the plaintiff’s attorney hired a highly educated physical therapist who opined that her client was limited, on a permanent basis, to working at “less than sedentary levels.”  Plaintiff’s counsel then hired a vocational expert who opined that due to the plaintiff’s injuries, psychological condition, and limited physical capacity, she was no longer able to continue working.  Leading up to trial the plaintiff’s attorney lined up a half dozen experts who opined that her client incurred (and will incur) $142,354.80 in past and future medical bills, plus $434,280 in past and future wage loss. Gordon Klug’s client only had $50,000 in insurance to cover any judgment against her so there was a risk of an excess verdict.

Trial started during the COVID-19 pandemic.  In the first twelve months of the pandemic, the Washington Defense bar started seeing a string of highly inflated jury verdicts.  Theories abound as to the cause of this surge in verdict values, but Gordon thought he had a strong case.  Trial started in March 2021 and lasted a full three weeks.  Portions of the trial were remote due to the pandemic.  During witness testimony all counsel were present in court along with the jury.  Parties and their trial witnesses all testified by Zoom.  In total approximately 30 lay and expert witnesses testified on behalf of the parties.  At the conclusion of trial Plaintiff’s counsel asked the jury for $21,000,000, arguing that all of the defendants are “jointly and severally liable” for her client’s orthopedic and traumatic brain injuries, as well as her post traumatic stress disorder.  The Plaintiff’s lawyer added that her client’s injuries also prevented her from ever returning to work for the remainder of her useful work life.

Our Strategy:

Eight months before trial, Gordon served an offer of judgment on the plaintiff for $15,000 which was rejected.  Once an offer of judgment is rejected, a plaintiff could be liable for a defendant’s costs incurred following that offer of judgment if the jury’s verdict is not more favorable.  However, Gordon knew – through his litigatory expertise – that he had a strong case in favor for his client, and that any degree of fault attributable to his client would be significantly lower than what the plaintiff was asking for.  Beyond the evidence presented at trial, Gordon was able to establish that the plaintiff’s successive history of much more serious car accidents were the significant factors in plaintiff’s injuries, not his client’s.

The Outcome:

The jury returned a verdict in Gordon’s favor for $13,400.  Gordon’s client and insurance carrier were ecstatic.  After carefully developing a highly effective defense plan, and retaining the right experts, Gordon beat a $21,000,000 demand with a $13,400 verdict which was well below his client’s insurance policy limit.  Gordon was able to achieve the best possible judgment for his client due to his expertise and hard work.

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