Date of Verdict: June 4.
Court and Case No.: U.S.D.C.M.D. Pa. No. 3:12-CV-1863.
Judge: James M. Munley.
Type of Action: Motor vehicle.
Injuries: Spinal; shoulder; bladder; bowel; fractures and abrasions.
Plaintiffs Counsel: Jamie J. Anzalone, Anzalone Law Offices, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
Defense Counsel: Nicholas M. Donzuso, Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, Newark, N.J.
Plaintiffs Experts: Kevin Johnson, accident reconstruction, Zionsville, Ind.; Christina D. Kelly, trucking safety, Greenfield, Ind.; Dr. John Kline, physiatrist, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.; Dr. David Cooper, orthopedic surgeon, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
Defense Experts: Dr. Michael Raklewicz, orthopedic surgeon, Kingston, Pa.
Comment: A disputed motor vehicle accident case between plaintiffs Aida and Max Gorman and defendant Robert O. Sharpe Jr., a driver with Northeast Transport Inc., ended in a settlement of $1.1 million.
According to the Gormans' mediation statement, on June 7, 2012, Aida Gorman and her son, Max, were traveling in their car in the middle lane on Interstate 81 in Luzerne County, Pa. They allege that Sharpe, also traveling northbound in a tractor-trailer, changed lanes from right to left without warning.
As the tractor and trailer came into her lane, Aida Gorman, who was driving the Gormans' vehicle, attempted to move to the left lane but was blocked by another car. The Gormans alleged in their statement that Sharpe's sudden turn into the lane forced them off the road and into a tree planted in the median.
In his statement, Sharpe contended that Aida Gorman was operating her vehicle at a high rate of speed in the middle lane, changed lanes to the left and then lost control of her vehicle. This, he alleged, caused her to veer back into the middle lane, where she collided with Sharpe's tractor-trailer, which in turn forced her off the road.
The Gormans relied partly on the eyewitness testimony of Mary Rundle to support their case. According to the Gormans' statement, Rundle testified that the Gormans' vehicle was at least equal to the back of Sharpe's trailer when he "whipped" into the middle lane, leaving Aida Gorman with nowhere to go and forcing her off the road. Rundle also testified that the police diagram of the incident was incorrect.
Aida Gorman also said she specifically remembered being in the middle lane equal to the middle or front half of the trailer. Max Gorman, who was in the rear passenger seat, noted that the cab of the vehicle likely struck his mother's car.
According to Sharpe's statement, the Gormans had a "vague and unclear" recollection of the events leading up to the accident. Sharpe's statement also criticized the Gormans' reliance on Rundle's testimony apportioning 100 percent liability to him, citing it as contradicting accident reconstructionist Kevin Johnson's report.
"Mr. Johnson authored a report stating that the physical evidence shows that the front tires of [Sharpe's] vehicle came into contact with the passenger side of [Gorman's] vehicle. … The [Gormans'] versions of events are completely contradictory," Sharpe said in his statement.
The Gormans' statement acknowledged that the accounts "differed slightly" but claimed that none of them referenced their vehicle being behind the trailer, thus maintaining that the accident was still unavoidable.
In their statement, the Gormans also included segments of trucking expert Christina Kelly's report, in which she opined that Sharpe failed to keep a proper lookout in his mirrors and habitually operated a tractor-trailer in an unsafe manner, as evidenced by six motor-vehicle collisions. The report also said Northeast was at fault for employing an unsafe driver.
Sharpe countered in his statement that Kelly failed to take into account the circumstances of the prior accidents and failed to notice the difference between preventable and non-preventable accidents. He alleged in his statement that Kelly "picks and chooses which information is beneficial to her analysis and simply does not take into account information that is adverse to her opinion."
Dr. John Kline of the John Heinz Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine saw Max Gorman in January in an effort to prepare an expert report, the Gormans' statement noted. Kline determined that the 33-year-old sustained T-12/13 burst fracture, status post compression and open reduction, and T-10 through L-2 fusion with residual ASIA C spinal cord injury as a result of the accident, as well as left impingement syndrome with labral injury and neurogenic bladder and bowel. Kline deemed Max Gorman totally disabled at the time and estimated that he will be so for the immediate foreseeable future. "His work life expectancy has been significantly reduced and he will demonstrate progressive decline in his functional abilities as he ages," the Gormans' statement claimed.
Aida Gorman sustained left frontal scalp hematoma and an open distal tibia/fibula fracture to the right side, diagnosed by orthopedic surgeon Dr. David Cooper. The Gormans' statement claimed that the 70-year-old will never be able to do extensive walking, standing or climbing again.
Sharpe had a $1 million aggregate insurance policy, of which $8,000 was paid in property damage, leaving $992,000 for bodily injury claims of Max and Aida Gorman. During mediation, both cases settled for a total of $975,000, of which Max Gorman received $850,000 and Aida Gorman received $125,000. The remainder of their recovery came from two State Farm underinsurance policies of $75,000 each for a total of $150,000.
Sharpe's attorney, Nicholas M. Donzuso of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, could not be reached for comment.
Jamie J. Anzalone, of the Anzalone Law Offices in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., expressed his appreciation for the speed and efficiency of the court system in the case.
"Both of my clients need to be provided for in the future, and the quicker this case was resolved, the better off they would be financially," Anzalone said. "There was a fairly limited defense policy, and they disputed the liabilty, but to get the result we did, I was very proud."
— P.J. D'Annunzio, of the Law Weekly