A deer running across the road near Duluth caused a three-car wreck that landed a $5 million Fulton County verdict for a woman who underwent several surgeries after the mishap.
Plaintiffs attorney R. Scott Campbell said there were conflicting stories about how the at-fault driver crashed into the injured woman’s car and even whether there were multiple deer at the accident scene. Regardless of how many there were, the deer apparently escaped unscathed.
Campbell said the defense first denied liability then began negotiating as trial approached.
“We had a mediation that failed, then it was in the trial calendar for a year or so and their offers increased as it got closer.
“They topped out at $1.2 million, and we were demanding $1.75 million. So we went to trial,” said Campbell, who tried the case with Shiver Hamilton colleague Brandon Smith.
The case was defended by Neal Scott of the Law Office of Terry-Dawn Thomas, in-house counsel for Zurich North America. He did not respond to a request for comment.
According to the Campbell and court filings, his client, Audrey Hill, was driving her Toyota Camry along Ga. 120 in Gwinnett County around 7:30 p.m. one evening in December 2014. Another driver, Edwin Efezokhae, was traveling the other way in a Nissan Sentra and had stopped for a deer in the roadway.
The defendant driver, Mark Brumberg, was in a new Mercedes-Benz C250 belonging to his employer, Atlanta Classic Cars, and came upon Efezokhae stopped in the road with his lights on.
“Our contention was that he saw the taillights but couldn’t stop in time, swerves left and hits Edwin’s car, then hits Audrey’s car head-on,” Campbell said.
“Brumberg said he saw Edwin’s car, swerved right off of the road, saw another deer and swerved back to the left, clipped Edwin’s car, then hit our car,” he said.
Brumberg was cited for following too closely, and Hill was treated at a local hospital and released.
According to her filings, Hill suffered neck, low back, left shoulder and left knee injuries, and underwent treatment including physical therapy, steroid injections and the administration of narcotic and analgesic pain medications. A few months after the wreck, she underwent cervical fusion surgery and later needed rotator cuff repair surgery, knee surgeries and lumbar spine fusion surgery.
The pretrial order said Hill, now 59, accrued more than $300,000 in medical bills and will have more in the future.
Hill sued Atlanta Classic Cars and Brumberg in Fulton County State Court in 2016. Efezokhae was originally named in the lawsuit, “but we dropped him, because we concluded he didn’t do anything wrong,” Campbell said.
During the four-day trial before Judge Jane Morrison, Campbell said the defense stuck to its claim of swerving to avoid another deer.
“They hitched their wagon to that deer story, and (Brumberg) testified that, based on his experience, if it’s deer versus car the deer wins, so he swerved back over,” Campbell said. “Our position was that we didn’t believe that story, but that even under his scenario he acted unreasonably.”
“One of the last questions we asked Brumberg was whether he admitted to any mistake or took any responsibility for his actions, and he said, ‘no,’” Campbell said.
Campbell said the jury took about an hour to award $5 million on Thursday.
In conversation with jurors afterward, Campbell said they decided within minutes that Brumberg was at fault.
“They said the issue of liability was not even a matter for discussion, that it was all about damages,” he said. “A handful wanted to give us $10 million, some others thought $3 million was right, so they compromised at $5 million.”
Campbell said opposing counsel had a tough row to hoe, given the facts of the case.
“Neal tried an excellent case; he’s a consummate professional, but he had his work cut out for him,” said Campbell. “If they had accepted responsibility, I think it would have turned out differently.”