A trucking company has agreed to pay $9 million to settle claims that its driver was using his cellphone before falling asleep at the wheel and colliding with another vehicle.
The parties in the case, Crews v. Cole, which had been filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, agreed to the settlement Wednesday, according to the plaintiff’s attorney, Fredric Eisenberg of Eisenberg, Rothweiler, Winkler, Eisenberg & Jeck. The plaintiff, Deanne Crews, claimed the accident caused lasting injuries, including a traumatic brain injury.
“Our client did everything right. She was wearing her seatbelt and abiding by the speed limit, and she was catastrophically injured,” Eisenberg said, adding that the settlement highlights the importance of ensuring that commercial truck drivers adhere to safety standards. “The failure to do so inevitably leads to a catastrophe.”
Former Philadelphia Judge Annette Rizzo of JAMS mediated the case, and Theodore Schaer of Zarwin Baum DeVito Kaplan Schaer Toddy represented the defendants.
Eisenberg, who was lead counsel on the case, said Kenneth Rothweiler assisted with much of the mediation, while Todd Schoenhaus performed much of the research and took several depositions.
According to Crews’ pretrial memo, she was driving in Logan Township, New Jersey, on Aug. 18, 2015, when defendant David Cole veered the tractor-trailer he was driving into oncoming traffic and struck her vehicle head-on. Cole had been working for Advanced Drainage Systems, which is a producer of corrugated pipes.
Cole, the memo said, had been drowsy and distracted by talking on his cellphone in the moments before the accident. The memo further noted that Cole was 71 at the time, and had been taking medication for high blood pressure and diabetes.
Accident reconstruction expert John Karpovich, who had been set to testify for the plaintiff, determined that Crews had been operating her vehicle safely, and that Cole’s driving was the sole proximate cause of the accident.
Although the defendants did not dispute that Cole caused the accident, and didn’t argue there was comparative negligence by Crews, Eisenberg said the defendants strongly contested the extent of Crews’ injuries, challenging the traumatic brain injury diagnosis in particular.
Crews was 44 at the time of the accident, and worked as a phlebotomist.
Along with a traumatic brain injury, her pretrial memo said she suffered multiple fractures of the foot and arm during the collision. She was hospitalized for a month, and had to be re-hospitalized following surgeries to remove hardware in her wrist and foot.
The memo said the injuries were permanent, and forced her to move in with her mother and grandmother, who helped her with her activities of daily living.
The defendants contended that Crews would be able to return to work, and Dr. Lee Harris, a neurologist who had been retained by the defendants, had opined that Crews did not show signs of having a traumatic brain injury.
However, Crews’ treating doctor and Dr. Terri Morris, a neurologist retained by the plaintiffs, both opined that Crews had sustained a traumatic brain injury.
Regarding her wage loss claim, Eisenberg said he planned to call on Crews’ boss and supervisor to establish that she had intended on becoming a nurse.
“It was a long- and hard-fought case,” Eisenberg said.
Schaer declined to comment on the case.