This is a review of a whiplash settlement which resulted after a state district court trial ended with a deadlocked jury. Instead of retrying the case which could’ve taken nearly a year, both sides agreed to a cash settlement for the plaintiff.
The settlement compensation was for an incident where an employee driving a company car side swiped another car, causing that car to flip over. The driver of the other car suffered injuries to her head and neck and had to be transported by ambulance to an emergency room.
After extensive negotiations broke down and the two sides were unable to come to a settlement agreement, the injured driver filed a lawsuit against the driver and her employer. The trial ended in a “hung jury”. Rather than wait to reach a second trial date both sides decided to come to an agreement for a whiplash settlement.
Statement of Facts…
On February 3rd, 2011, Alexis Shiro was on her way to classes at American National Community College. Shiro commuted to classes daily from her home. It was about 8:30 in the morning and the weather was clear. Shiro was driving south on Wintergate Avenue.
As she was driving, Shiro stopped at a red light at the corner of Wintergate Avenue and Riordan Drive. Also stopped at the light was Susan Atwater. The evidence showed Atwater had been texting her boyfriend for the last 3 to 4 minutes before coming to a stop at the corner.
Both drivers were preparing to make a right-hand turn on to Riordan Drive, and the intersection had two lanes specifically designated for right turns. Shiro was in the outer right turn lane, and Atwater was in the inner lane, closer to the sidewalk.
After the light changed, both drivers commenced their turn. Atwater continued to text message her boyfriend, and while distracted by the texting Atwater allowed her vehicle to drift to the left, out of her lane and into Shiro’s.
As Atwater continued to drift, she suddenly, and without any warning to Shiro, struck Shiro’s vehicle on the passenger side.
The impact of the collision forced Shiro’s vehicle into the concrete embankment separating Wintergate Avenue from Riordan Drive. The concrete embankment ran for about 100 feet and down the side of Riordan Drive. It served as a buffer between the on-ramp from Wintergate Avenue onto Riordan Drive.
The force of the impact caused Shiro’s vehicle to flip over. As it came to a rest, Shiro was unconscious. Several vehicles stopped and ran to her aid. Other witnesses to the collision called 911. Within minutes the local Fire and Rescue was on the scene. They were able to extricate Shiro from the vehicle.
The paramedics stabilized Shiro, “boarded” her, and transferred her by ambulance to the local hospital’s emergency room. There she was treated for neck and shoulder injuries.
Shiro was released the next day from the hospital. She was diagnosed as having suffered a whiplash injury to her neck and shoulders. The doctors prescribed pain medication and muscle relaxers. They also ordered her to wear a cervical collar for a period of three weeks, at which time they would re-evaluate her. The doctors advised her not to return to work until they released her from their care.
At the time of her release from the hospital, Shiro had already incurred $8,000 in medical bills. She estimated her future medical bills, out of pocket expenses, and lost wages to be an additional $12,000.
Overwhelmed with hospital and personal bills, and already the target of collection agencies for those bills she was unable to pay, Shiro made an appointment with a local personal injury attorney. Her attorney first attempted to negotiate a whiplash settlement with the Dakhar’s insurance company, but to no avail.
The personal injury attorney filed suit against Atwater and her employer Dakhar Packaging Company, Inc. whose car she was driving at the time of the incident.
The lawsuit asked for an award of $100,000. Pre-trial discovery ensued and the case was set for trial. Both parties appeared for trial and a jury was selected. The trial began on July 11th, 2011. Both sides presented their cases.
Shiro’s attorneys presented medical testimony in the form of verified medical affidavits, related medical bills, the treating physicians’ diagnoses and prognoses, and all medical charts in any way related to Shiro.
Shiro also testified, telling the jury how the injury devastated her physically and personally. She said as a result of the collision she missed a majority of her classes and would have to repeat an entire semester. She also told the jury she lost her part time job as a waitress. She further testified that since the collision she was unable to sleep and suffered continuing pain and discomfort.
The Whiplash Settlement…
When both sides completed presenting their evidence, the case went to the jury. The jury was charged by the presiding judge with the task of deciding:
- Whether Atwater’s negligence was a direct and proximate cause of Shiro’s injuries; and
- If Atwater’s negligence was the direct and proximate cause of Shiro’s injuries, what amount of money Atwater and Dakhar should pay Shiro as compensation for her actual medical bills, out of pocket expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
After 3 days of testimony the case went to the jury. The jury deliberated for 8 hours and was unable to reach a verdict. The next day the jury returned. After another 3 hours they sent a note to the judge saying they were hopelessly deadlocked.
The Judge had no choice but to declare a mistrial.
Realizing it would take 9 months to a year before the court could schedule another trial date, both sides entered again into serious whiplash settlement negotiations. Both sides knew the retrial of the case would not only take up to a year, but might result in another deadlocked jury.
Wanting to avoid the lengthy wait for another trial, they eventually agreed on a whiplash settlement in the amount of $65,000.
For many years the claims of whiplash victims were considered to be no more than desperate attempts of automobile collision victims to secure money from insurance companies. Those claims of whiplash injuries have now been supported by medical evidence – evidence which lends credibility to victims’ claims of serious pain and discomfort suffered during vehicular collisions.
Many states have recently enacted strict laws prohibiting operators of motor vehicles from using their cell phones while driving.
The laws cover not only talking on cell phones while driving, but texting as well. Violations of the cell phone statutes can now include the imposition of heavy fines, with the second conviction resulting in the suspension of their driver’s license.
*This case example is for educational purposes only. It is based on actual events although names have been changed to protect those involved. Any resemblance to real persons or entities is purely coincidental.
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