Type of action: Personal injury; hit-and-run trucking collision

Injuries alleged: Epidural hematoma; traumatic brain injury; numerous fractures

Case name: Hamer v. John Doe, North American Van Lines, Roy Almon Lord, Sirva, Inc. and Nationwide Moving and Storage, Inc.

Case number: 04 CVS 598

Court: Robeson County Superior Court

Verdict or settlement: Settlement

Name of judge: Hon. Craig Ellis

Settlement date: Feb. 19, 2007

Plaintiff attorneys: Hoyt Tessener and Sean Cole, of Martin & Jones in Raleigh

Submitted by: Sean Cole

Description: On Sept. 14, 2004, while driving to a job site in South Carolina, plaintiff's van was in a collision with defendant North American's tractor-trailer on Interstate 95 just outside Rowland, N.C., and flipped several times. The defendant's driver fled the scene, according to the plaintiff, but the vehicle's markings were identified by several eyewitnesses, all of whom provided testimony and affidavits. Plaintiff suffered serious injuries to nearly every part of his body, including massive head wounds resulting in an epidural hematoma. The plaintiff was taken to hospitals and underwent an emergency craniotomy and multiple other procedures.

Plaintiff's injuries left him with serious physical, mental and emotional limitations, which will prohibit him from returning to work.

According to the plaintiff, the defendant claimed at first that it could not identify which driver was involved and that it was not their truck. Plaintiff's lawyers learned from eyewitnesses that defendant's vehicle had the word "Connecticut" on the side and sent certified letters to every one of defendant's locations in Connecticut. After defendant's insurer refused to identify the driver, plaintiff filed suit and, through discovery, learned that, while the defendant advertises that it has GPS tracking of all of its vehicles, it did not have such data available for the only vehicle it claimed to have near Rowland on the day of the collision.

Substantial written discovery and two trips to Connecticut and one to Indiana, along with multiple 30(b)(6) depositions, revealed the corporate structure, with Sirva as the parent company and North American Van Lines as a subsidiary, although few actual differences separated the companies. Nationwide Moving and Storage was one of more than a dozen agents for North American Van Lines in Connecticut.

After the defendants identified the driver of the vehicle, they denied it was their vehicle or driver. Nearly all of that driver's logbooks had been destroyed, but plaintiff's attorneys pieced together the driver's route, mostly from fuel receipts and supplemental paperwork. That investigation revealed that the driver had driven from Connecticut to deliver furniture to Florida and was driving through North Carolina when the collision occurred.

Defendant Nationwide Moving and Storage, the local agent for defendant North American, admitted that multiple copies of the driver's log books had been destroyed, according to the plaintiff.

Plaintiff's collision reconstructionist identified marks on both the plaintiff's van and the tractor-trailer in question and testified that there was essentially no chance that any other vehicle made that contact with the plaintiff's van.

Prior to mediation, plaintiff's attorneys conducted jury focus groups in Robeson County to determine reasonable ranges for damages. The focus groups confirmed that the numbers plaintiff's lawyers were pursuing were likely outcomes for a jury trial.

At mediation, plaintiff's attorneys presented their case by using video testimony from four eyewitnesses from Maryland and South Carolina, video and transcript testimony from half a dozen medical experts, a lifecare plan, an economic loss forecast, a multimedia exhibit detailing plaintiff's life before his brain injury and numerous computer simulations of the accident prepared by experts. The defendants' highest offer at mediation was less than plaintiff's special damages.

After defendants' claim for contributory negligence was thrown out at summary judgment several months before trial, the defendants settled the case as the jury was coming in to be sworn for jury selection.

At the time of settlement, plaintiff's lawyers called his worker's compensation carrier to resolve that lien. That carrier did not appear at the trial. The worker's compensation adjuster agreed to be available by telephone, but after several calls, finally agreed to clinch only the lien and to allow the plaintiff to continue to receive future worker's compensation benefits. This agreement was reduced to writing and mailed to the adjuster.

Two weeks after the settlement, the worker's compensation carrier contacted the plaintiff's attorneys and claimed that the adjuster did not have authority to clincher the claim as she did, according to the plaintiff. The carrier forced plaintiff's lawyers to submit the issue to the Robeson County Superior Court, but the carrier agreed to completely waive

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Putting the Brakes on Unsafe Trucking Companies