Settlement Reached After North Carolina Driver Drags Passenger Resulting in Leg Crush Injuries

What Happened

Our client was an active 70 year-old retiree who was entering the backseat of a car operated by her friend, the driver, and her friends wife was the front seat passenger. They were together leaving a community board meeting in Hertford, North Carolina.  Our client was getting in the backseat passenger side door when the driver suddenly began moving before she was fully inside the car, and before she had closed her door.  The defendant driver moved forward trapping and driving over our client's lower left leg and foot with the right rear tire.  Our client screamed to the driver to back the vehicle up and off of her foot.
 Our client was seen in the emergency room at Chowan Vadant Hospital and she received X‑rays of the left tibia, ankle and foot.  There were already signs of ankle edema and epidermolysis, which means detachment or loosening of the epidermal layer of skin.  This appeared on the posterior medial aspect of her left leg and was consistent with subcutaneous hematoma.  A dressing was applied and she was provided a U-splint but she was unable to walk on that leg and was referred to an orthopedic doctor.
The orthopedic surgeon found that she was suffering left ecchymosis and contusion of soft tissue to her left leg, and swelling of the lower leg.  He diagnosed a left leg crush injury.  Our client had to use crutches and a soft cast to get around and couldn't drive herself for weeks.  Then, she had problems with the layer of skin at the area, which showed evidence of epidermolysis of an area of about 2 by 4 centimeters, with some signs of early necrosis.  This also indicates subcutaneous hematoma.  Her doctor then recommended that the ankle be irrigated and debrided and he prescribed a wound vacuum system, that uses controlled negative pressure of a vacuum to promote healing in certain types of wounds.  She underwent a surgery to debride the wound, and also was required to have a split thickness skin graft.  The goal of the skin graft was to provide a good skin surface over the damaged crush area. 
Months later she continued to suffer left ankle pain, and the orthopedic doctor found a nodule around her ankle suggestive of a giant cell tumor of the tendon sheath.  The orthopedic doctor conducted another surgery on the left ankle tendon sheath to remove that particular tumor.  Our client was immobilized for long periods of time and then underwent physical therapy for skin desensitization, scar mobilization, and strengthening of her walking motion.  Even a year after the injury, the discoloration of the skin graft area continues and the area is still tender and swollen.

Key Legal Strategies

Given the magnitude of the medical bills, which extended to $50,000, it was important that we determined all available car insurance policies that could apply.  We made a demand on the driver's car insurance which provided the first $100,000 of liability insurance coverage.  However, we determined that the car which insured the driver had $100,000.00 of underinsured motorist coverage, equivalent to the liability coverage.  Our client had a car insurance policy that carried $50,000 of underinsured motorist coverage, which she was not in at the time she was injured.  We researched North Carolina underinsured motorist laws, and reviewed cases that indicated that in North Carolina you can combine separate underinsured motorist coverages, including any that apply to a vehicle in which an injured person is a passenger. In other words, North Carolina law allows a passenger, who is seeking UIM coverage, to access both forms of insurance coverage-liability and underinsured coverages (note: Virginia has a different rule than North Carolina on this point).  We concluded that there was $150,000.00 of North Carolina underinsured motorist coverage meaning a possibility of obtaining up to $50,000.00 more than the driver's own $100,000.00 coverage.  We proceeded to negotiate with our client's underinsured motorist carrier and convinced them to pay $32,500.00.  Therefore, the total settlement was $132,500.00 which our client accepted prior to the filing of suit against any parties.
Law Firm Staff        
Richard N. Shapiro
Paula M., Roz H. paralegals
Northeast North Carolina
November 2017

$132,000 Settlement