A Chatham County jury delivered a post-apportioned award of more than $3.3 million in the case of a man who was injured when he hit a vehicle parked along the side of an exit ramp with a blown-out tire.
The plaintiff suffered multiple internal injuries, including a punctured lung and eight broken ribs that left him with a permanently diminished lung capacity, said his attorney Justin Jones of Savannah. The crash happened on Interstate 16 in Savannah after the driver of the disabled vehicle fell asleep while waiting for help to arrive.
The defense was handled by H. Mark Worsham of Savannah’s Worsham Corsi Scott & Dobur, in-house counsel for Progressive Insurance. Worsham said he could not comment on the litigation.
According to the lawyers, court filings and a plaintiffs’ account of the case, the crash happened in April 2016 when 18-year-old Kelsey Davis had a flat tire around 2 a.m. She stopped her Buick Rendezvous partly in an exit ramp off a bridge over Stiles Avenue.
The defense portion of the pretrial order said Davis called for emergency assistance and was told it would take several hours for someone to come help, so she “activated her emergency flashers and settled in to wait.”
A plaintiffs’ account said Davis turned her vehicle and all of its lights off.
“Although the defendant claimed her flashers were on, all fact witnesses testified otherwise,” according to the plaintiff’s account.
Kareem Evans, then 43, was on his way to work as a longshoreman in Statesboro shortly before 6 a.m. when his Chrysler Town & Country struck Davis’ SUV.
“One of the witnesses was a passenger in a garbage truck that [Evans] had passed just before the wreck,” said Justin Jones, who handled the case with his father, Bobby Jones. “He testified that he watched the vehicle go over a hill and disappear—and then he heard a loud boom.”
Evans’ injuries kept him out of work for six months, Bobby Jones said, and by the time his ribs healed, his rib cage had constricted so much that he permanently lost 25 percent of his prior lung capacity. Davis suffered minor injuries.
Evans’ medical bills totaled over $192,000 by the time of trial.
Evans and his wife sued Davis in Chatham County State Court in 2016, arguing, among other things, that there were emergency lanes before and after the bridge that she could have stopped in instead of obstructing the exit ramp.
Davis was not insured, and the Evanses’ UM carrier, Progressive, stepped in and defended the case.
The Evanses’ $500,000 policy limit demand was declined, Bobby Jones said.
During a mediation before Patrick O’Connor of Savannah’s Oliver Maner, the Joneses said the highest Progressive would offer was $100,000.
Progressive sent an offer of judgment for $275,000, later offering $300,000, which was declined.
“We tried to get them to $400,000, but we couldn’t do it,” Bobby Jones said.
During a three-day trial before Judge Gregory Sapp, Justin Jones said the defense tried to argue that Evans’ lung condition was caused by a 2004 wreck.
The only expert was for the defense, Brunswick accident reconstructionist James Sloan, who said that, by his calculations, Evans was traveling at about 64 mph in a 55 mph zone and should have had ample time to see Davis’ car.
“We argued that the defendant had 3.5 hours to avoid the wreck and didn’t, yet Sloan expected us to avoid her in six seconds,” said Jones’ account.
In closing, the plaintiffs asked for $2.5 million for Evans’ pain and suffering, $500,000 for his wife’s loss of consortium claim and his medical bills.
Worsham suggested that, if the jury awarded damages to Evans, they should be in the range of $56,000 a month for the six months he was out of work, Bobby Jones said.
On Thursday, the jury took about an hour and 15 minutes to award $3.5 million for pain and suffering, $400,000 for Evans’ wife’s consortium claim and $192,632 in medical bills, adding up $4,092,632.
But the panel allocated 82 percent of the liability to Davis and 18 percent to Evans, for a total judgment of $3,355,958.
The Joneses said they did not speak to the jurors afterward. Both said Worsham tried a good case.
“Mark is a very talented trial lawyer,” Justin Jones said. “He was thoroughly prepared and did a good job.”
Bobby Jones said he enjoyed trying the case with his son but that it would likely not happen again.
“It was lot of fun doing it with my son as lead counsel and me holding second chair, but I’ve been trying cases for over 41 years. I think this may have been my last one,” he said, although he still plans to work on cases.
The trial was notable for being the first case taken before a jury by the father-and-son team. It also came less than a year after the elder Jones barely escaped with his life when his single-engine plane went down near Hinesville.
“On Dec. 14, 2017, I crashed my Piper Cub Six—it had total engine failure and went down in some woods,” Bobby Jones said.
“I had five broken ribs, a collapsed lung and chest tube, broke both collarbones and fractured my sternum,” said Jones, a partner with Jones & Smith in Metter.
“It was a great experience, a highlight of my career to try a case with my dad,” said Justin. “I’m just glad he was there to do it.”