Grant Smith.
Grant Smith. (Courtesy photo)

A Waycross police officer who sued after being struck by a car rolling off of a tow truck, and later injured in two more accidents, was awarded $143,000 by a jury in what the defense attorney said was likely “the most complicated case I’m ever going to try.”

The jury laid all the blame on the wrecker company, declining to apportion any of the blame to the drivers in the subsequent cases or to a third nonparty defendant: the surgeon who twice operated on the officer.

The ex-motorcycle cop will actually realize a bit more than the award. A high-low agreement reached during trial bottomed out at $275,000, with a high end of $1 million.

“There were so many legal issues and they were so compacted—it was like a law school exam,” said Dennis, Corry, Smith & Dixon partner Grant Smith, who represented the wrecker company.

Smith said he was gratified with the result of the admitted liability, potentially high exposure case.

The plaintiff, 55-year-old Gary Smith, was represented by Brent J. Savage of Savannah’s Savage, Turner & Pinckney and Alma solo Kenneth Futch, neither of whom responded to requests for comment.

According to attorney Smith and the pretrial order, the case began in late 2012 when the officer responded to an accident to have a vehicle towed. The Pontiac Grand Prix was pulled up on the flatbed wrecker when the J-hooks attaching the cables to the car popped loose, freeing it to roll off.

Gary Smith had his back turned and, according to the defense, turned around and put his left hand on the car as it “slowly rolled toward him,” traveling about 16 feet before the wrecker’s driver was able to run to the driver’s side door and stop the car.

Gary Smith complained of wrist, shoulder and neck pain, and an MRI revealed herniated disks and degenerative spinal disease in January 2013. Smith underwent a two-level spinal fusion surgery eight months after the accident.

In March 2014, Gary Smith was directing traffic when a woman in a pickup truck nearly hit him. He twisted to get out of the way and returned to the surgeon who performed the surgery, Raymond Topp, who diagnosed him with a neck and shoulder injury.

Smith returned to work a couple of months later and was on his motorcycle in a crosswalk in June 2014 when a 16-year-old pickup truck driver backed into him, knocking him over.

Smith sustained injuries to his left knee, hip, shoulder and neck, and Topp performed another two-level spinal surgery.

All the fusions left the officer with a “Frankenstein neck” such that he could no longer work at his “dream job” as motorcycle cop, Grant Smith said. He took a medical retirement and received a workers’ compensation settlement.

Smith sued Corky’s Wrecker Service and the driver in Ware County State Court, although the driver was dismissed before trial.

Gary Smith demanded Corky’s $1 million policy limit, which was declined. During a mediation, defense attorney Smith said he offered to settle for $200,000 “and indicated there was more money available, but they never came off their million-dollar demand.”

A neurosurgeon the plaintiffs team hired to review the records said the second and third accidents did not affect Smith’s neck. But during a deposition, he testified that Topp should have operated on two of the vertebrae he fused following the third accident during the first surgery and admitted the second and third accidents aggravated the neck injury, Smith said.

Topp and the drivers in the two other accidents were added to the verdict form as nonparty defendants.

During a four-day trial before Judge Douglas Gibson, Smith said the officer testified the second and third accidents did not caused him many problems.

“I pulled out the lawsuits he filed in those cases and said, ‘Mr. Smith, do you agree that these accidents did impact your neck? Isn’t it true that you sued [the other drivers] for money damages and settled those cases for money damages?’”

Smith said the officer also changed his story about whether he “braced” on the Pontiac when it went by.

The parties negotiated high-low for $275,000 to $1 million.

The plaintiff claimed medical expenses of $155,000 and lost wages in excess of $500,000, Smith said. During closing arguments, he said Savage asked for $2.6 million.

The jury took about two-and-a-half hours to award $143,000 on Sept. 29, Smith said. Afterward, he said some jurors indicated they wanted to deliver a defense verdict.

“There were credibility issues with the plaintiff,” he said. “I think it was a compromise verdict.”