Motorcycle accidents have the potential to be severe no matter the circumstances. But in this particular case, which took place in Bend, Oregon, a faulty repair led to a high-speed crash and serious injuries.
The Facts of the Case
Our client took her 1998 Harley Davidson Road King motorcycle in for servicing at a local motorcycle shop. As part of the work performed that day, the shop replaced both the rear tire and tube. When this work was done, the tube was installed such that the tire valve stem did not align with corresponding stem hole in the rear rim (it was, quite literally, installed backwards). As a result, the tube’s tire valve stem was pulled laterally across the tube to bring it through the stem hole in the rear rim. This caused an overlapping of the inner tube, resulting in pinching and rubbing against the exterior tire and rim during inflation and use.
Approximately two months after the rear tire and tube were replaced, our client was riding her Harley westbound on a highway in Washington. The road conditions were clear and dry, and it was a sunny day. As she rode down the highway, at about 70 miles per hour, our client felt the rear tire of her bike get “squishy.” Before she could pull off the road, the bike’s rear tire tube blew out, causing her to lose control and crash, narrowly being run over by a semi truck.
When emergency responders arrived at the scene about 13 minutes later, our client was lying in the roadway. She was wearing her helmet and a full face shield, which were both damaged. She was conscious but reported to paramedics that she had no memory of the accident (an important fact concerning her brain injury). She also complained of “severe lower back pain,” and the paramedics report shows she had visible abrasions to her mid back down to the buttocks.
Our client was taken by ground ambulance to the emergency room, where she reported a brief loss of consciousness and complained of severe back pain. A CT scan of her spine revealed transverse process fractures to L1, L2, L3 and L4 on the left, and posterior hairline spine fractures at L4 and L5. The emergency room physician noted that our client was “in so much pain she cannot get up and walk.” She was given a prescription for pain medication and an antibiotic and discharged with instructions to follow up with a physical therapist. She followed up with both PT and chiropractic treatment, as well as visits to her primary care provider, as ordered. However, her back pain did not resolve, and she continued to struggle with headaches and cognitive difficulties, which ultimately lead to the diagnosis of a traumatic brain injury.
An Out of State Attorney Was Initially Hired
Our client hired an attorney out of Seattle, but once it was apparent they could not get the case settled, they hired our firm transferred her representation down to our litigation team. However, the motorcycle repair shop shut down, and was no longer in business when we were hired to represent our client. In addition, our client had a handful of prior injuries, and suffered from similar (but not the same) mental difficulties in the year leading up to the crash, which were determined to be hormonal in nature and, ultimately, controlled with medication.
Our Course of Action
We filed the lawsuit and follow the statutory requirements to get it properly served so as to preserve our client’s claim. We also had our client preserve her wheel and tire for inspection. Once we made contact with the shop’s insurance company, we arranged for an inspection of the tire and tube to prove that the installation was faulty. The insurance company begrudgingly agreed that the shop was at fault. However, it took the position that because our client was not immediately diagnosed with a severe brain injury, and because she attempted to go back to work shortly after the accident, she was not brain injured.
In response, we had our client attend a neuropsychological examination, which proved mild traumatic brain injury. However, the insurance company took the position that it was actually postmenopausal symptoms, as opposed to a brain injury, and refused to accept that our client’s full injuries. Even at mediation, the insurance company offered only $60,000 to settle our client’s claim. We quickly refused that offer and continued to prepare for trial.
During the litigation, we drove to the Seattle area numerous times to depose numerous witnesses, including our client’s prior employers. We also traveled to the Seattle area to record some of our witness’ testimony for use at trial, including her chiropractor, several doctors, as well as lay witnesses. The trial preparation involved a highly coordinated effort with numerous witnesses in the Seattle area. We also had our client examined by a vocational expert who was prepared to put a value on our client’s loss of ability to work secondary to her ongoing brain injury and were armed to the teeth for a full two-week trial.
Just two weeks short of the trial, the insurance adjuster contacted Tim Williams, who was handling the case, to attempt to settle. While she was initially reluctant to put any real money on the table, Tim convinced her of the gravity of the situation, and ultimately got her to offer $600,000 to settle the case – ten times their best offer at mediation!