Our client was driving his 1994 Honda Civic southbound on I-5 in the right lane just south of Custer Way, Tumwater, Washington. At the same time, an agent of Walgreens Oshkosh, Inc. (“Walgreens”) was driving a 2009 International semi-truck and trailer slightly behind him. It was dark and rainy. The semi was attempting to change lanes from Lane 2 (middle lane) to Lane 1 (right lane) on southbound Interstate 5. In doing so, its driver failed to see our client in Lane 1, and struck the left rear corner of his car.
This caused our client’s car to rotate counter clockwise in front of the semi-truck, pushing it sideways down the road a short distance. Our client’s car then continued across Lanes 2 and 3, striking the center jersey barrier, and rebounding back into the lanes of travel only to be struck by the trailer of the semi as it jacknifed across the freeway. Our client’s car finally came to rest blocking traffic, facing oncoming traffic. Not only was our client knocked around in his car, but the driver’s side of the Honda was so mangled, he had to be extracted by paramedics.
As a result of the collision, our client suffered the following injuries:
Damage to the muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves and other soft tissue of the head, neck, back, knees, left foot, shoulders, and wrists;
Lumbar radiculopathy, requiring multiple injections and surgery, with permanent residual symptoms;
Cervical radiculopathy, requiring multiple injections, with permanent residual symptoms; and
Severe emotional distress, including Pain Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Adjustment Disorder.
Walgreens denied liability, and went so far as to claim that our client was at fault in causing the collision. We had no option but to file the case in federal court. Walgreens, in turn, hired a very large and experienced law firm to represent their interests, with two extremely qualified defense attorneys leading the charge. We were not intimidated.
Tim Williams headed the federal litigation team for our firm. Only weeks from trial, and after many months of hard-fought discovery and expert disclosures, Walgreens finally admitted it was responsible in causing the collision, and withdrew its claims that our client was at fault. However, it continued to deny that our client was significantly injured, claiming, instead, that his left leg and right arm symptoms were the result of spinal degeneration, even though he was only 36 years old at the time of his injury. This ultimately necessitated a trial in the United States District Court for the District of Oregon in Portland.
At trial, Walgreens admitted some soft tissue injury, but claimed the left leg and right arm symptoms were a result of known prior spinal degeneration. It is true that, prior to this motor vehicle collision, our client had been diagnosed with mild to moderate degeneration of the spine, and had sustained several acute back injuries over the preceding several years. However, we pointed out that those injuries resolved prior to this collision. Indeed, Walgreen’s medical expert conceded many points during our skillful cross examination. We were quick to point out that, while our client did have intermittent upper back pain, as one might expect for a dockworker, those pains quickly resolved with only a few chiropractic visits. He also suffered from prior intermittent, though severe, low back pain with radiculopathy into his left foot. However, in the past, the radicular symptoms would go away with time. Their doctor had to admit that they did not do so after this collision.
Additionally, our client was a union dockworker at the time of the collision. Indeed, he was a senior dockworker, who received not only high pay, but the most sought after assignments. His job required extensive travel, often to the Seattle area. Because of his injuries, he could no longer work most of the jobs required of him. Walgreens was quick to point out that he had worked intermittently since the collision. However, we pointed out that, during that time, his friends initially did most of his jobs for him, or he only took the easy jobs when available, turning down work that he could not do.
To complicate matters slightly, the Port of Portland lost two major accounts for their shipping terminal in the two years prior to the trial. By some accounts, shipping had decreased by 85% to Terminal 6, which is where our client primarily worked when working at the Port of Portland. However, we were able to show that, while the Port of Portland may have been slow during part of the time following our client’s injuries, this actually made his position more valuable, as his seniority allowed him to select the out-of-state jobs which not only increased his hourly rate, but also enabled him to collect per diem travel payments as well. Moreover, as his supervisors testified, our client was on track to one day become a foreman, meaning a much higher pay rate with much less physical requirements.
Our vocational rehabilitation expert made it clear that our client could not work his at-injury position anywhere near the same capacity that he was able to at the time of the collision. Ultimately, he will need to undergo vocational rehabilitation and retraining, and enter the workforce in a less physically demanding position, though he will never make what he was making as a dockworker. Walgreens, of course, disputed this evidence with an expert of their own, who agreed our client had an impairment of his earning capacity, but claimed that he could not determine to what extent.
The semi truck accident brought important material changes to our client’s personal life as well. As an avid outdoorsman, he can no longer hunt in the field as he once did. He has difficulty playing with his kids, including playing basketball and golf with his son. He was an avid skier, but can no longer go to the mountain. He has difficulty even doing simple house chores. Indeed, he has issues even getting his pants and boots on in the morning. His physical struggles are real, immeasurable, and permanent. As for the emotional impact his injuries have had, he was diagnosed with, and treated for, PTSD. Walgreens did not dispute this diagnosis, and all parties agreed that he was much improved within a year following the collision. However, his physical injuries and limitations persist, and are permanent.
Ultimately, after four days of trial, including the testimony of six expert witnesses and several friends, family, and coworkers, and after skillful and passionate closing arguments on both sides, a jury returned a unanimous verdict in our client’s favor of $4,386,817. This verdict was more than eight times Walgreens’ highest settlement offer!