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Settlement Reached in Rolling Truck Incident at Softball Field

Type of action: Negligence
Injuries alleged: T12 burst fracture, neurological deficit in lower extremities, rib fractures and bilateral sacral fractures
Special damages: Medical expenses of $141,000 and lost wages of approximately $14,000
Case name: Confidential
Case number: None
Court: None (Settled in Lenoir County)
Tried before judge or jury: None
Verdict or settlement: Settlement
Settlement date: May 23, 2007
Amount: $735,000
Experts: Ron Kirk of Research Engineers and Ed Cooper, M.D.
Insurer: Nationwide
Plaintiff’s attorneys: Robert E. Whitley of Whitley Law Firm, Kinston
Submitted by: Alicia Delamere

Description: The plaintiff, along with her husband, attended a softball game for her 12-year-old daughter at a softball field in Lenoir County on March 5, 2006.

A short chain-link fence surrounded the field. The fans’ viewing area was at the bottom of a slight incline. A parking area for vehicles was located further back from the viewing area. After the game, the plaintiff and her husband stood at or near the fence on their daughter’s side of the field, waiting for her team to conduct its post-game meeting. As they stood there, a pickup truck parked behind the viewing area slowly and silently rolled down the incline and ran over the plaintiff, according to the plaintiff’s report. The pickup truck neither struck nor injured the husband.

Just before the truck hit the plaintiff, someone yelled, “Watch out.” The plaintiff turned to look for something in the air, thinking a softball had been thrown in her direction, the report said.
The plaintiff was transported by air to Pitt Memorial Hospital, where her original diagnosis was a T12 burst fracture, neurological deficit in her lower extremities, rib fractures and bilateral sacral fractures.

She underwent decompressive laminotomies of T11 and T12, with spinal cord decompression. Following surgery, a posterior instrumentation and fusion of T11 and L1 was conducted.

An investigation revealed that the pickup truck had been driven to the field by another player’s parents, with children as passengers. It was left idling so that family members could get warm during the game and afterwards. At some point shortly before the incident, a child in the truck engaged the truck into gear, causing it to slowly roll down the incline, the plaintiff’s report said. The truck was insured under a commercial policy of the operator’s employer.

The plaintiff’s family retained an attorney shortly after the incident. This led to a timely investigation that included interviewing numerous fans at the game and the deputy sheriff who investigated the incident. The attorney also hired an engineer to examine the vehicle to make sure it could not have been disengaged from park without someone having done it – either a child or adult.

After being hospitalized and undergoing extensive rehabilitation at Pitt Memorial Hospital, the plaintiff was discharged by her treating physician on Jan. 11, 2007, with 30 percent permanent partial impairment due to her injuries.

The plaintiff retained an independent medical examiner and a board-certified orthopedic surgeon to review her medical records, tests, scans and X-rays from the hospital and to conduct an extensive physical examination of the plaintiff. The independent medical examiner concluded that the plaintiff had 44 percent permanent partial disability.

The plaintiff’s attorney contacted the senior adjuster for the responsible insurance company and decided to attempt to settle the claim before filing a lawsuit because the family that operated the pickup truck was acquaintances of the plaintiff and her family, a minor had disengaged the pickup truck and the plaintiff wished to settle before filing suit. The plaintiff’s attorney attributed some of the successful resolution of the claim to the insurance company’s reasonableness and fairness.

The plaintiff’s attorney presented the adjuster with the engineer’s report on the pickup truck and the independent medical examiner’s 19-page report, and after approximately three weeks of negotiations, the parties reached a $735,000 settlement. A portion of the settlement, $150,000, was structured for lifetime benefits to the plaintiff.