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Motorcycle Passengers Severely Injured in Head-On With Police Officer Recover $1,512,000

Attorneys and Staff: James C. Lewis and Randall E. Appleton, Attorneys; Denell Falzon, Paralegal; Dana D. Roth, Legal Assistant

Court/Date: Albemarle County Circuit Court, January 2008

Case Description: Motorcycle riders hit head on by police officer.

What Happened: The plaintiffs, who are husband and wife, were returning home from work on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and traveling on a two-lane primary highway that has its northbound and southbound lanes separated by painted stripes.

The defendant, a county police officer, was operating a marked police cruiser while on his way home from a day of driver’s training at a local speedway. He was traveling in the opposite direction from the plaintiffs. As the officer approached the plaintiffs’ motorcycle, his cruiser drifted over the center line, sideswiped a pickup truck and hit the plaintiffs’ motorcycle head on.

The defendant police officer claimed to have "blacked out" unexplainably with no warning. After the accident, he was seen and treated at a local emergency room, where the treating physician noted no injuries. Approximately six weeks later, however, the defendant’s supervisor visited the ER physician and convinced thedoctor to add a diagnosis of "syncopal events secondary to dehydration" to the defendant’s medical chart.

In the course of pretrial discovery, the plaintiffs’ attorneys -- Lewis and Appleton -- discovered that one year prior to the accident, the defendant police officer had been diagnosed with sleep apnea and had been noncompliant with his doctor’s recommendation for treatment. Accordingly, the plaintiff motorcycle passengers were able to retain the services of two medical experts who were prepared to testify that the defendant was not dehydrated. Rather, it was the experts' opinion that the officer had suffered an acute episode of sleep apnea before the collision that had caused him to lose control of his police cruiser.

Both motorcycle passengers were severely injured in the head-on collision. The wife suffered multiple fractures to the bones of her arm, wrist, tibia, ankle and hand. She later developed a chronic nonunion of one of the broken bones in her hand and was determined to be totally disabled from performing her job, which required repetitive heavy lifting.

The husband sustained a severe pelvic fracture that was treated with an external fixation device. In addition, he sustained a severe scrotal injury and a dislocated prostate gland. Subsequent to these injuries, his testicles had to be surgically transferred from his abdomen, where they had migrated, back to his scrotum. Fortunately, he was able to return to work and is presently employed full time.

Key Legal Strategy: Critical to the plaintiffs successfully prosecuting their motorcycle accident injury claim was the fact that they retained representation from our law firm quickly. This allowed our attorneys to promptly survey and inspect the accident scene and the defendant’s vehicle, and also to obtain the medical records necessary to explain why the defendant crossed over the center line and collided with the plaintiffs’ motorcycle.

Outcome: The case was settled in mediation shortly before the scheduled trial for the sum of $1,512,000.00.