Todd Rosen, Christian Searcy and Jack Scarola with Astley Simms
Todd Rosen, Christian Searcy and Jack Scarola with Astley Simms (Melanie Bell)

Case: Astley Simms v. Harry Kraft

Case no: CACE12-031841

Description: Auto negligence

Filing date: Nov. 13, 2012

Trial dates: Jan. 14-24, 2014

Judge: Broward Circuit Judge Carlos Rodriguez

Plaintiff attorneys: Todd Rosen, Law Offices of Todd D. Rosen, Miami; Jack Scarola, Christian Searcy, Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley, West Palm Beach

Defense attorney: James Sparkman, Cole, Scott & Kissane, West Palm Beach

Award amount: $10 million

Details: Astley Simms, 68, was driving a 1998 Chevrolet Silverado pickup westbound on Broward Boulevard in Plantation when his car was rear-ended July 9, 2012.

According to the traffic investigation report, Harry Kraft struck a Chevrolet Blazer, which in turn struck Simms’ Silverado.

The Silverado then caromed down the road and struck a Ford Mustang, a concrete pole and a Hyundai. He finally rear-ended a stopped van over a half-mile from the initial collision.

Simms was left a quadriparetic, able to move his arms and legs but with no control. He also suffered a hip fracture that resulted in a hip replacement. He has since been confined to a wheelchair.

Plaintiffs case: Simms’ evidence was based mainly on the testimony of his treating physicians. Dr. Christopher Roberts, a neurosurgeon at Broward General, testified he immediately suspected central cord syndrome, an acute spinal injury.

Simms had severe arthritis in the neck before the chain-reaction collision, which put him at a high risk for spinal cord bruising due to the narrowness of his arthritic spinal canal.

Dr. Bruce Rubin, the treating neurologist, concurred with that diagnosis.

Dr. Craig Lichtblau of North Palm Beach, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist, testified about Simm’s future medical needs and life care plan.

Jurors also heard from Simms’ longtime companion, Brenda Rachel; his adult son, Kevin Salley; an economist; and Dr. Laura Liptai, a biomedical forensics expert from Orlando who claimed the force of the first two impacts—Simms sideswiped the Mustang shortly after being rear-ended—could have hyperextended his neck.

Key to Simms’ case was convincing the jury the injury occurred immediately or very shortly after the first collision. Simms’ testified he lost the ability to drive in those first moments.

Defense case: The defense maintained Simms left the scene of the initial accident of his own volition and did not suffer the spinal injury until the final impact.

Sparkman said accident reconstructionist William Brem of Tampa testified there was evidence of braking, steering input and acceleration. He claimed the vehicle couldn’t have gone as far as it did unless Simms were still able to drive.

Brem also claimed Simms’ airbag did not deploy until the final impact, Sparkman said. This was a point of contention because the Hyundai driver, Sandra Reichman, claimed Simms’ airbag already had deployed when he glanced past her.

Ming Xiao, a biomechanical engineer in Deerfield Beach, testified the force of the initial impact was insufficient to hyperextend Simms’ neck. Xiao also claimed the impact with the Mustang was at only about 6 mph to 8 mph, Sparkman said.

Outcome: The jury found Kraft was negligent, and his negligence caused the spinal injury. Simms was awarded $4.5 million for past and future medical expense and more than $5.5 million for past and future pain and suffering.

The jury also found Simms was 30 percent at fault.

Comments: “The 30 percent was stricken by the judge because if he intentionally drove away then he could not have been injured. It just didn’t make sense,” Rosen said.

Post-verdict: Simms contested the comparative negligence. On Feb. 10, Rodriguez granted a motion for directed verdict on the comparative negligence, leaving Kraft 100 percent at fault.

Rodriguez has since denied a motion for a new trial. He also reduced the past medical award to what was actually paid, or about $330,000, Rosen said. The defense filed a notice of appeal Monday.