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Spears v. Atlas Honda

Type of action: Personal injury
Injuries alleged: Mild traumatic brain injury, chronic pain
Name of case: Spears v. Atlas Honda
Court: Bristol Circuit Court
Judge: Sage Johnson
Special damages: Medical bills – $186,722
Verdict or settlement: Settlement
Amount: $1,550,000
Attorneys for plaintiff: Carlton Bennett, Kevin Sharp and John E. Zydron, Virginia Beach; Robert Ward, Bristol; Richard Serpe, Norfolk; O.L. “Buzz” Gilbert, Norfolk
Insurance Carriers: Owners Insurance Co., Auto Owners Insurance Co.

Plaintiff, a 61-year-old truck driver, sustained injuries on Nov. 4, 2010, when defendant’s employee was in the process of offloading an ATV from plaintiff’s truck with a forklift after plaintiff had delivered the truck to the premises of the defendant corporation. Defendant’s employee failed properly to install a fork in the forklift, the fork gave way and the container with the ATV fell off the forklift and struck plaintiff. As a result of the incident, plaintiff sustained compression fractures of the thoracic spine and traumatic brain injury with vestibular complications. Defendant initially argued that the plaintiff was negligent since he had been standing too close to the forklift at the time of the incident and that plaintiff’s injuries were not as serious as alleged. Additionally, defendant filed a plea in bar arguing that the plaintiff had been engaged in his employer’s business at the time the ATV struck him and that plaintiff’s only remedy was workers’ compensation benefits.

In the months after his injury, plaintiff experienced chronic back pain, dizziness, depression and memory loss. While he was able to resume driving, he could not meet the demands of his full-time position as a truck driver. Defendant’s experts argued that plaintiff’s injuries had fully resolved within three to four months of the incident and that plaintiff’s ongoing problems were the product of somatoform disorder and unrelated to the ATV incident. They also indicated that plaintiff could return to his employment as a truck driver. Defendant conducted surveillance of plaintiff, which showed him shopping, going to restaurants and spending time with family and friends. Defendant argued that the surveillance supported the positions of its experts. However, plaintiff’s experts testified that plaintiff’s injuries were ongoing, permanent and related to the ATV incident. Fact witnesses identified by plaintiff supported this proposition. Plaintiff’s medical bills totaled $186,722.

Several days before trial, defendant admitted liability (while preserving the plea in bar) and offered plaintiff $250,000 in order to resolve the claim. Plaintiff rejected the offer and the matter proceeded to trial. On the third day of trial, after plaintiff had presented 12 witnesses, defendant offered plaintiff $1,550,000 to resolve the matter. Plaintiff accepted the offer and the court dismissed the jury.