verdicts and settlements
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Date of Verdict:

May 20.

Court and Case No.:

U.S. District Court, M.D. Pa.

Judge:

Edwin M. Kosik.

Type of Action:

Motor vehicle.

Injuries:

Death.

Plaintiffs Counsel:

William F. Anzalone, Anzalone Law Offices, Wilkes-Barre, Pa., for Karen Amesbury; David L. Pennington, Harvey Pennington, Philadelphia, for David Morgan.

Defense Counsel:

Evan S. Eisner and John J. Snyder, Rawle & Henderson, Philadelphia, for CSA LTD and Combat Support Associates; Joseph N. Bongiovanni, Marks, O’Neill, O’Brien, Doherty & Kelly, Philadelphia, for Morgan Hanks.

Plaintiffs Experts:

James Sobek, engineer, Indianapolis; Andrew Verzilli, economist, Lansdale, Pa.; Dr. Gary Ross, forensic pathologist, Dunmore, Pa.; Dr. Edward A. Reedy, forensic pathologist, Bethesda, Md.; Dr. Thomas K. Watanabe, physiatrist, Elkins Park, Pa.; Daniel Rappucci, vocational expert, Frazer, Pa.; Dr. Joyce Morano, internal medicine, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.; Dr. John Anthony Boger, gastroenterologist, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

Defense Experts:

Lee Carr, accident reconstruction, Houston; Alan Dorris, human factors expert, Atlanta; Howard M. Silverstone, economist, Philadelphia; Dr. Steven Day, neurologist, Portland, Ore.; Dr. Michael Baden, New York; William H. Burke, life care specialist, Portsmouth, N.H.; Dr. Margaret O’Connor, neurologist, Boston.

Comment:

According to court documents, on Nov. 19, 2009, Brian Mark Patton, a 37-year-old Pennsylvania resident who worked as a corrections officer but was serving a tour of duty as a reservist for the U.S. Navy, was driving an SUV along a two-lane road in Kuwait with David Morgan, who was also a corrections officer serving a tour of duty, as passenger. As Patton approached a convoy transporting U.S. Army soldiers, an SUV being driven in the opposite direction by Morgan Lee Hanks, who was working as a dog handler for a defense contractor, was attempting to pass buses in the convoy.

According to court documents, Hanks, unable to re-enter his lane between buses in the convoy, turned off on the shoulder of the road to his left and into the desert, and Patton, in an attempt to avoid striking Hanks’ vehicle, also pulled onto the shoulder and into the desert. The vehicles collided. Patton died in the accident, and Morgan was paralyzed and suffered severe neurological injuries. Morgan died prior to the trial in the case.

Karen A. Amesbury, as executrix of Patton’s estate, and Patton’s wife, Amy Beth Patton, sued Hanks, as well as his employer, CSA LTD, Combat Support Associates and related companies. Amesbury sued for negligence and wrongful-death claims, and sought punitive damages.

Morgan also sued Hanks, Combat Support Associates and related companies.

Filings by the plaintiffs alleged that Hanks was speeding at the time, and negligently attempted to overtake the buses when it was unsafe to do so.

Filings from the defendants contended that the road contained no markings regarding passing, no signs were posted and there were no visible traffic lines. The defendants further argued that a hidden dip in the road affected Hanks’ ability to see Patton’s vehicle approaching.

Passing convoys was permitted, according to the defendants’ filings, and Hanks was properly attempting to pass one vehicle at a time, but he was unable to move back into the convoy because the Army buses had failed to maintain the required 50- to 100-meter gap between the vehicles.

The defendants’ filings additionally argued that Patton “whipped” his vehicle into the desert, and that he was likely not paying attention to the road until seconds before the accident. In the filings, the defendants additionally blamed lack of roadway controls, Patton’s inattention and lack of briefing of the convoy drivers for the collision.

The defendants argued that because negligence on behalf of the convoy caused the accident, the plaintiffs’ claims were barred under the political questions doctrine, which bars claims that would require a court to examine military procedures and tactics. The defendants additionally claimed an exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act for torts that occur in combat zones barred the claims; however, both arguments to preclude the actions were dismissed by the judge.

Filings from the defendants indicated that expert Lee Carr planned to testify that Hanks was traveling 45 to 50 mph when the vehicle left the roadway. He further planned to testify that there was no space for Hanks to re-enter the convoy, and that evidence indicated Patton was not paying attention until moments before the collision.

Expert Alan Dorris planned to testify the road lacked sufficient markings, and expert Dr. Michael Baden planned to testify that Patton lost consciousness immediately in the crash and did not have any pre-death pain and suffering.

Patton, who had two sons at the time of the collision, died of blunt force trauma to the head, and Morgan suffered a brain injury that rendered him totally and permanently disabled, filings from the plaintiffs contended.

The case eventually went to trial in March. A jury found Hanks negligent and Combat Support Associates and the related defendants vicariously liable. The jury awarded Patton’s estate $1.65 million in wrongful death, and $2.23 million for the survival act claims. To Morgan’s estate, the jury awarded $1 million for wrongful death and $2.75 million in survival act claims.

The defendants subsequently settled with Patton’s estate for $4 million and Morgan’s estate for a confidential amount.

Max Mitchell can be contacted at 215-557-2354 or mmitchell@alm.com. Follow him on Twitter @MMitchellTLI.