Our Virginia personal injury client was a retired registered nurse who became permanently disabled after a negligent driver forced her motorcycle off a four-lane highway in Fredericksburg, VA.
The woman was riding as a passenger on her friend’s Harley-Davidson when the driver of a car traveling in the same direction crossed a lane line. The motorcycle operator swerved onto the narrow shoulder and ended up in the grass. When the front wheel of the motorcycle went into a culvert, our client went flying.
The woman suffered a fractured C7 vertebra in her neck, several other spinal disc fractures, 15 broken ribs, a collapsed lung, severe bruising to her abdominal muscles and a major concussion. She spent nearly a month in the hospital, during which she lost a considerable amount of weight due to extreme nausea and an inability to keep food down.
Our client’s digestive problems persisted after she returned home. Multiple specialists were unable to identify the cause of the injured woman’s chronic nausea. Finally, after months of missed diagnoses and failed treatments, a gastroenterologist determined that the motorcycle accident had damaged the woman’s vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve signals the muscles along the digestive tract to contract. Surgically repairing the nerve was deemed impossible, but surgeons implanted a stimulator device that controlled the worst of the woman’s symptoms.
Despite experiencing some relief, our client could not return to work. Shortly before the motorcycle accident, she and her former employer had discussed having her take a position as a consultant to assist with implementing an electronic medical records system and to teach RN classes.
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Key Legal Strategy
By the time the injured and disabled motorcycle rider hired our Virginia personal injury law firm, she had racked up more than $250,000 in medical bills. Her chronic nausea, which persisted despite the implant, had reduced her quality of life dramatically. She also worried about her future financial stability since she could no longer work.
Our attorneys first conducted an independent investigation to find evidence that negligent actions of the car’s driver forced their client’s motorcycle off the highway. Evidence showed that the driver had entered the median while turning out of a neighborhood, overcorrected while trying to return all four wheels to the pavement and crossed into the path of the motorcycle. The driver also admitted that he never saw the woman and her friend on the Harley-Davidson.
The second task for our Virginia personal injury attorney was to establish how the accident had ruined their client’s life. A report from the woman’s gastroenterologist confirmed the vagus nerve injury and its role in triggering the chronic nausea.
A separate report from a life care planner presented projections for the woman’s future medical expenses, and a third report prepared by a vocational expert highlighted how much income the woman would lose as a result of her permanent disability.
The at-fault driver’s car insurance coverage limits did not allow us to obtain an adequate settlement. Even accessing the motorcycle operator’s insurance in addition to the driver’s would leave our client well short of the funds she needed to regain any meaningful quality of life.
Discussions with our client revealed that she had the foresight to purchase $500,000 in underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage through her own car insurance policy. She also had access to an umbrella policy with a $1 million cap.
We filed UIM claims with the injured and disabled woman’s own insurers, but the companies refused to settle. Shortly before a civil jury trial was scheduled to begin, the judge assigned to the case urged mediation. That alternative dispute resolution process failed, but a mutually agreeable settlement was eventually negotiated.
In the end, our client received a total of $1 million from four different insurance policies.
Our Virginia personal injury attorneys worked with this client for about 18 months to ensure that the settlements she received would provide adequate compensation for her future medical needs and for the radical decrease in her quality of life. We were also able to negotiate reductions on some outstanding medical bills and to have certain liens related to medical debt lifted.
Court and Date: Spotsylvania Circuit Court, Fredericksburg, VA, March 2012
Staff: Richard N. Shapiro and Randall E. Appleton, staff attorneys