Case Description: The driver of a car hit the motorcyclist, causing several broken bones and mental trauma. The victim recovered on an underinsured motorist claim through his own policy and from the at-fault driver's policy.
Firm Attorney and Staff: John C., Attorney; Kelly K. Farley, CP, Paralegal
Location/Date: Virginia Beach Circuit Court/December 2011
What Happened: Our client was a young Navy man who had been riding his Yamaha motorcycle down Dam Neck Road in Virginia Beach, VA. He and a buddy, who was on a separate motorbike, had visited a Dairy Queen. When they pulled out of the parking lot, so did a teenager driving a Kia. Our client was in the left-hand lane when the girl attempted to change lanes right in front of him without giving a signal. Our client could not avoid hitting the rear of the Kia.
The teenager, who was followed by her mother in a separate vehicle, claimed to have signaled and to have moved into the left-hand lane as the same time as the motorcycle. The liability, meaning who was at fault, was hotly contested during settlement negotiations and would have been at trial. Unfortunately, in Virginia, the rule is that if the plaintiff in a personal inury lawsuit is found to be as much as 1 percent at fault for causing a traffic accident, he or she cannot recover anything from the person primarily at fault for the wreck.
During the discovery period leading up to trial, we learned that the young driver had been ordered to attend defensive driving school after she was ticketed for speeding within less than a year of getting her first driver's license. Typically, that information would not be admissible in court, and, further complicating our civil case, the traffic violation arising from the collision with our motorcyclist client was handled in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, which seals its records. Regardless, we knew the teenager was a poor driver.
Our client suffered severe injuries, including a broken collarbone that required extensive surgical repair, a shattered shoulder blade that had to be replaced with a plate and screws, torn shoulder muscles, and several fractured hand and finger bones. The man will continue to have limited use of his left shoulder for the rest of his life, but, fortunately, he will be able to work in the future.
Key Legal Strategy: Our client gave up riding motorcycles after the wreck, so we retained a doctor to help analyze the psychological impact of the injuries he suffered. The man did have emotional trauma, including post-traumatic stress disorder. Further, because most of the medical treatment for our client was provided by the Navy at Portsmouth Naval Hospital, we hired an independent private orthopedic surgeon to analyze the records and testify as to the injuries. Often, the Navy doctors had moved away from the area or were not comfortable providing testimony.
The private-practice surgeon we hired had served in the military and was highly qualified to explain the nature of the treatment and the fact that the man was found medically disqualified from further service in the military.
Outcome: Settled two months before trial for $175,000, with $150,000 coming from State Farm for an underinsured motorist claim and $25,000 coming from GEICO, which insured the at-fault driver.
Jurisdiction of Case; Virginia Beach, Virginia (VA)