Disputed Back Injury in Auto Crash Nets $1.4M
Defense said age and occupation, not wreck, were cause of back problems
A 51-year-old carpenter who hurt his back in a low-speed rear-end collision has won a $1.4 million verdict in Henry County State Court. The defense had offered a $40,000 settlement.
Henry County State Court Chief Judge Ben Studdard III entered the judgment Nov. 14 following a two-day trial.
The wreck occurred at 6 a.m., May 4, 2011, on the eastbound side of Ga. 81/20. Plaintiff Kenneth Cox was on his way to work in his Chevrolet pickup truck. He was about to turn onto a dirt road to pick up a Bobcat bulldozer he needed for the job that day, according to his attorney, Alan Hamilton of Shiver Hamilton. When Cox slowed for the turn, the Kia Optima behind him didn't stop. The driver of the Kia, defendant Ralph Grant, was cited for following too closely and failing to pay attention, according to outlines from both sides in the consolidated pre-trial order.
The conflict focused on whether or not the rear-end collision caused the plaintiff's back problems. Hamilton said that if the Kia had been traveling at more than 30 miles per hour, the airbag would have deployed, and it didn't. Adding to the challenge for the plaintiff, Cox already had been treated for back problems and taken medicines for back pain. "He had a 25-year history of going to chiropractors," said Hamilton. "Something we had to get out in front of with the jury and talk about was the difference between a spine injury and common back pain that most people have."
Shiver and co-counsel R. Scott Campbell, also with Shiver Hamilton, had to prove the wreck caused the severe, radiating back and leg pain that led Cox to have spinal fusion surgery. After the wreck, his medical bills for testing, treatments, doctors, surgery and hospitalization totaled about $250,000.
The defense argued that the wreck didn't cause Cox's back problems, which were more related to his age, his occupation and wear and tear on his joints, according to the defense summary. Defense attorneys John Hannay and W. Mark Amos of Sharon Ware & Associates said they couldn't comment on "pending litigation."
Hamilton said he made a time limited demand to settle for the $100,000 State Farm Insurance Co. policy limit, which was ignored. Later, he made a $400,000 offer of settlement. He said the best offer from the defense to settle was $40,000.
"We told them we thought they'd undervalued the case," said Hamilton. "They were confident there was no real injury."
A spokesman for the insurance company offered this statement: "State Farm believes in and supports the jury system. This case presented a number of issues which the jury saw differently than State Farm. We are disappointed in the verdict and are considering our legal options at this time."
Hamilton said the surgery helped his client's back pain. "He had a good recovery from it. But he has metal rods and screws in his back, which is no small thing."