During the summer of 2013, the plaintiff, a retired registered nurse, was the passenger on the back of her friend’s Harley-Davidson motorcycle. They were taking a short ride in the Fredericksburg area on a 55 mph highway on a sunny weekend afternoon. The highway lanes were separated by a divided grassy median. At the same time, a college student was exiting a nearby neighborhood and had crossed into the divided median, paused, and then proceeded out in the same direction of travel as the Harley. The college student never saw the motorcycle and meandered from the left lane over to the right lane, which was already occupied by the Harley-Davidson cycle. The experienced motorcycle operator tried to move to the narrow paved shoulder but the motorcycle was forced off the paved shoulder onto a grassy area. The front wheel of the Harley dipped suddenly in a small culvert ejecting the driver and the plaintiff.
Plaintiff suffered major injuries including a C-7 (neck) transverse fracture, 11 left and 4 right-side rib fractures, a collapsed lung, several spine fractures, liver contusions, a left abdominal wall hematoma, fractures of her thoracic spine and a closed head injury. Besides all of the traumatic injuries, the plaintiff immediately developed nausea and difficulty with digesting her food and lost significant weight over the weeks in the hospital and after her release. Ultimately, her gastroenterology specialist determined that the cause of her chronic nausea was permanent damage to the vagus nerve, the nerve that assists in control of the digestion of food. Injury to the vagus nerve is not capable of surgical correction, so he recommended a vagus nerve gastric stimulator be implanted as a new technique that has helped some patients alleviate chronic nausea from this type chronic problem. In early 2013, the plaintiff underwent the implantation of the stimulator and although it did not eliminate her nausea, there were signs that it might help control the worst symptoms.
The past medical expenses were around $250,000. Also, a highly contested future medical cost projection was prepared, especially related to the care of the vagus nerve injury. Additionally, a vocational report was prepared to show the plaintiff had a significant pre-injury earning capacity, and no post injury earning capacity, despite having voluntarily retired before the motorcycle wreck. In her field, numerous colleagues accepted part time work at significant salaries, even after first “retiring.”
The plaintiff not only maintained a $500,000 “underinsured motorist coverage” on her car insurance policy, but also had an umbrella policy that provided $1,000,000 in UIM coverage. The parties agreed to voluntary mediation with retired judge Thomas B. Hoover, and reached an impasse during mediation, but narrowed the settlement gap considerably, and soon thereafter the parties settled the case at $1,000,000.[15-T-041]
Type of action: Personal injury – auto/motorcycle
Injuries alleged: C-7 (neck) transverse fracture, 11 left and 4 right-side rib fractures, a collapsed lung, several spine fractures, liver contusions, a left abdominal wall hematoma, fractures of her thoracic spine and a closed head injury
Court: Fredericksburg Circuit Court
Case no.: CL14001244-00
Date resolved: March 2, 2015
Verdict or settlement: Settlement
Attorneys for plaintiff: Richard N. Shapiro and Randall E. Appleton, Virginia Beach
Attorneys for defendant: Ryan T. Walker, Glen Allen; Alicia L. Summers, Alexandria
Plaintiff’s experts: Dr. Justin Harberson, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, gastroenterology; Susan Riddick-Grisham, Richmond, medical cost projection; Peder Melberg, Glen Allen, vocational evaluation