Virginia Lawyers Weekly//October 2, 2023
Virginia Lawyers Weekly//October 2, 2023//
Type of action: Personal injury
Injuries alleged: Moderate traumatic brain injury, spinal fracture, future brain surgery
Name of case: Ledoux v. Western Express Inc., et al.
Court: U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, Lynchburg Division
Case no.: CL 6:20-cv-51, 52 (consolidated)
Tried before: Jury
Name of judge or mediator: Senior Judge Norman K. Moon
Date resolved: 4/20/2023
Special damages: $337,000; plus $135,000 in future treatment
Verdict or settlement: Verdict
Amount: $0 (defense)
Attorneys for defendant: Ashley Winsky and Jeff Miller, Richmond; Guy Harbert, Roanoke
Description of case: On Aug. 11, 2018, a sudden burst of rain caused several accidents on Interstate 81 in Rockbridge County. The accident at issue involved a chain reaction collision involving five vehicles. A Western Express tractor-trailer was the last vehicle in the collision series to rear-end plaintiff’s work van. Plaintiff suffered serious injuries, including a spinal fracture and an uncontested moderate traumatic brain injury with subdural bleeding. His uncontested medical damages totaled $337,000.
Plaintiff alleged a variety of permanent ailments arising from his TBI. He sued for over $10 million and, despite a mediation, the parties were unable to make meaningful progress towards negotiating a reasonable settlement. Western Express contested liability and the permanence of plaintiff’s injuries. Western Express maintained that its driver was not negligent in reacting to the sudden rainstorm that moved through the area and highlighted the fact that the driver hit the brakes before his truck’s technology recognized a collision was imminent.
The parties tried the case to a jury in the Lynchburg Division of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia in April 2023. Prior to trial, the parties conducted extensive motions practice, which led to Senior Judge Norman Moon dismissing plaintiff’s negligent hiring and retention claims and excluding his trucking industry and weather experts. The court allowed plaintiff’s negligence and punitive damage claims to go to the jury.
Plaintiff put on evidence for nearly four days. He presented an accident reconstruction expert, Heath Stewart, and witnesses to the accident in support of his liability claim. Plaintiff’s damages case was led by neuropsychiatrist Dr. Gregory O’Shanick, who opined that plaintiff suffered a severe TBI, resulting in permanent diminished capacity, and that he would need a future brain surgery, costing over $135,000. Plaintiff took the stand for his only appearance at trial, opting not to be present for any other portions of the proceeding. Plaintiff’s wife testified to the effects of his injuries on their everyday lives.
Western Express presented its own accident reconstruction expert, James Whelan, P.E., and several eyewitnesses, including two impartial “good Samaritans” who confirmed the defense’s claim that the weather went from clear and sunny to a downpour within a matter of seconds. On the damages side, neuropsychologist Dr. Edward Peck testified for the defense to address plaintiff’s successful recovery on all objective measures. He was followed on the stand by neurologist Dr. Seth Tuwiner, who testified that the future surgery recommendation was neither necessary nor medically sound.
At the close of the evidence, plaintiff asked the jury to award approximately $10 million. The jury deliberated for just over an hour before returning a complete defense verdict of no liability for Western Express or its driver.
Defense counsel Jeff Miller provided case information.