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Young mother killed after SUV struck by tractor-trailer — $988,782.82 settlement

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//December 12, 2022

Young mother killed after SUV struck by tractor-trailer — $988,782.82 settlement

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//December 12, 2022

Type of action: Auto accident

Injuries alleged: Wrongful death

Name of case: National Liability & Fire Insurance Co., et. al v. Lawson

Court: Fairfax County Circuit Court

Case no.: 2022-01162

Name of judge or mediator: Judge Randy I. Bellows

Verdict or settlement: Settlement

Amount: $988,782.82

Attorneys for plaintiff (and city): Joseph A. Blaszkow, Alexandria; Carlos Lopez, Washington, D.C.

Description of case: On Sept. 5, 2020, a young mother of two was driving her SUV south on Interstate 95 with her boyfriend, anticipating a holiday weekend in Myrtle Beach. On the southbound approach to Occoquan, overhead video caught the young woman’s car pulling off the highway onto the left-hand shoulder. Her passenger was ill, and the video shows him exiting the car and climbing over the guardrail onto the grassy median, where he promptly throws up. Shortly, he climbs back over the guardrail, and re-enters the car. The car remains stationary on the shoulder for another five minutes.

At the same time, a tractor-trailer, fully loaded with cargo, is also southbound approaching the same location. Dash cam and other instrumentation establishes the truck is consistently exceeding the speed limit. The cab is occupied by a driver, and a second individual who later identifies himself as either the “co-driver” or the “trainer.” Audio on the dash cam suggests this individual was sleeping at critical moments.

The tractor-trailer, traveling in the far right lane, crests a hill and is confronted by slowing and stopping traffic ahead. Responding to this, overhead video shows the truck traversing all four lanes of the highway, from right to left, one by one. The truck then proceeds onto the shoulder, overtaking and sideswiping a car traveling in the far-left lane, and then strikes 511 feet of guardrail before striking the back end of the SUV, propelling it some 386 feet up the highway. The tractor-trailer travels a total of 1,202 feet from the point where it first hit the guardrail until it finally comes to rest.

The driver is charged with reckless driving and convicted. The mother and her boyfriend are transported to the hospital, where the mother is pronounced DOA.

A wrongful death case was pursued in the name of the deceased mother. Her two minor children were the primary and automatic beneficiaries of any wrongful death claim. These daughters each resided with their respective fathers, neither of whom had ever been married to the decedent and, accordingly, neither had any claim to assert on their own. The decedent was also survived by her parents. The decedent’s father chose to forego any claim, while the decedent’s mother vacillated on whether she would assert any claim; under the wrongful death statute she was potentially eligible to assert a claim provided she could satisfy the court that she had received some persistent level of support from the daughter in the last year of her life.

In anticipation of possible family conflict over the distribution of any wrongful death proceeds, counsel sought the appointment of a member of the bar to be the administrator of the deceased mother’s estate, solely for purposes of litigation, pursuant to Va. Code § 64.2-454. Counsel then took the position that it was the administrator’s task to maximize any recovery for wrongful death, leaving it to potential beneficiaries to contest any apportionment of the proceeds.

Additional claims were also asserted in connection with this accident. The passenger of the SUV had a significant personal injury claim of his own. Additionally, a claim in the approximate amount of $11,000 was asserted by GEICO for the property damage sustained by the vehicle that was sideswiped. Finally, VDOT asserted a claim for approximately $34,000 for damage to the guardrail.

The passenger’s injury claim was handled by Washington attorneys Doug Stevens and Lou Schoeneke. The wrongful death claim was handled by Joseph A. Blaszkow in Alexandria, assisted by Washington attorney Carlos Lopez and Blaszkow’s paralegal Matt McMullen. All counsel agreed that, after payment of the GEICO and VDOT claims, any further proceeds would be divided equally between the wrongful death claim and the passenger’s claim.

Early indications were that the only defendant would be the trucking company, who employed the driver. And it was represented that they were covered by a million-dollar single limit liability policy that would have to be utilized to cover all claims. Further investigation revealed that the so-called co-driver/trainer was employed by a second trucking company with a second million-dollar single limit liability policy.

Both policies were tendered in their entirety. GEICO and VDOT each agreed to reduce their claims by half. A hearing to approve the settlement was held on June 29, 2022, in Fairfax Circuit Court before Judge Randy I. Bellows. Judge Bellows decided he would conduct an evidentiary hearing that day to determine whether the mother would participate in the wrongful death settlement. The immediacy of that proposal prompted the mother of the decedent to agree with her granddaughters, assisted by guardian ad litem Bruce Levine, to limit her claim to $30,000. Each granddaughter then received slightly more than $300,000.

Plaintiff’s counsel Joseph A. Blaszkow provided case information. [022-T-140]

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