L-R Jon Pope and Ronny Hulsey, Hasty Pope, Gainesville, Georgia
L-R Jon Pope and Ronny Hulsey, Hasty Pope, Gainesville, Georgia ()

A high school track coach who was running with a group of students when she was struck in the face by a passing truck’s side mirror has settled her suit against the driver for $1 million.

According to plaintiffs attorneys Jonathan Pope and Ronny Hulsey of Gainesville’s Hasty Pope, the insurer for the defendant driver, rejected a demand for his $100,000 policy limits before they filed suit.

Chestatee High School coach Stacey Merck was running with four members of the women’s cross country track team at around 7:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning last September along Chestatee Road in Gainesville when the incident occurred.

According to the lawyers and their complaint, Merck and the students she was with were all running in a grass strip beside the road when she was struck by Eric Stover’s pickup.

“He was driving a Dodge Ram 2500 pickup with a large side mirror sticking out,” said Pope. “Before he hit Stacey, he went by one of the runners in front of her, and she said she felt the mirror go over her hair.”

Merck, 39, suffered facial lacerations and a fractured orbital socket. Hulsey said Merck suffered a detached retina and a hemorrhage, and her vision in her right eye has been permanently affected.

She also had to have plates and screws inserted to repair facial injuries and still has minor scarring, he said.

A Georgia State Patrol incident report said Stover claimed Merck was in the roadway when his mirror struck her.

“We interviewed the runners on another team, and had affidavits from other witnesses that the defendant’s truck left the shoulder of the road,” Pope said.

Merck was hospitalized for a week and out of work for about a month, he said. She’s now back at work at the Hall County high school.

In January, Merck’s lawyers filed a written demand for Stover’s policy limits on his insurer, Horace Mann.

“In February, we received a counteroffer that included a condition that was contingent on a waiver of [uninsured/underinsured motorist] subrogation from Stacey’s insurer, Nationwide,” Pope said.

“We obviously thought it was a clear counteroffer, but a few days later, subsequent correspondence from Horace Mann contained additional counteroffers, so we filed suit.”

At that point, “they retained counsel, and that’s when negotiations began,” Pope said. “They understood very quickly that they were in bad faith. Quite simply, they accepted our one and only demand to resolve the case for $1 million.”

The case settled in late April but the releases were only finalized last week, the lawyers said.

The attorney for Horace Mann, Thomas Sippel of insurance defense firm McAngus Goudelock & Courie, did not respond to requests for comment.