A Troup County jury has awarded the 94-year-old father of a disabled woman, Mary Ellen Humphrey, upwards of $3 million dollars after she was fatally ejected from a transport vehicle following a LaGrange, Georgia car accident. Pivotal to the plaintiff’s victory in his wrongful death action, Greg Lands reports in the Daily Report’s December 30 issue, was evidence that “restraining straps that should have been installed on the stretcher were missing.” The single 63-year-old woman, who suffered from paralysis in her legs among a plethora of other health problems, had resided at a nursing home facility for approximately four years and required transport to and from the West Georgia Dialysis Center three times per week.
Ms. Humphrey had been placed on the stretcher and loaded onto a transport minivan owned by Brilansie Enterprises for a return trip from West Georgia Dialysis shortly before the 2010 auto crash. The resulting wrongful death suit was filed against the defendant driver (who perished later in an unrelated event), the executor of the defendant driver’s estate, the driver of the transport van, Brilansie Enterprises (the transport company) and its insurer, and Southeastrans Inc., an Atlanta-based company that engages subcontractors who in turn provide NET to Medicaid and Medicare patients.
Evidence produced showed that Ms. Humphrey had been restrained by three straps across her torso when the defendant driver struck the vehicle, but the shoulder straps were conspicuously absent once she was extricated from the vehicle. The force of the impact “threw her forward from beneath…[the torso straps] and into the driver’s seat ‘with such force that it bent,’ then continued forward, with her head slamming into the front console and her body wedged beneath the two front seats,” according to the Daily Report’s interpretation of the pre-trial order. Her injuries, which resulted in her death at the scene, included 18 broken ribs, a skull fracture, and a broken femur.
In his portion of the pre-trial order, the plaintiff referred to the manual for the stretcher, which ostensibly states that the stretcher was not to be used without “all of the restraint straps.” Had the shoulder restraints been employed, he asserted, she would have been afforded additional protection during the frontal collision that may have been able to mitigate her injuries and save her life. According to defense counsel, however, the manual was not provided to Brilansie Enterprises when it purchased the stretcher from a company previously employed by Southeastrans. During trial, defendants were also able to get the plaintiff’s expert to agree that Ms. Humphrey might have still perished even if she had been properly restrained.
Astute wrongful death attorneys who followed this case were immediately aware that its main issue stemmed from whether the decedent’s death was the direct result of the accident or the fact that she was improperly secured to the stretcher. The cause was especially important as it related to determining, and subsequently apportioning, fault. In Georgia, the percentage of fault ascribed to each co-defendant determines what portion of the damages award they will be responsible for. This idea of apportionment where there are several co-defendants is an important concept for plaintiffs’ attorneys to bear in mind, particularly when it comes to an offensive strategy.
In the case being discussed presently, the jury deliberated for an hour and a half before allocating 20 percent of liability to the defendant driver and his estate, and 40 percent of liability each to Brilansie and Southeastrans Inc. The jury’s verdict suggests that they agree the defendant driver caused the wreck, yet they believe Brilansie and Southeastrans were equally at fault for failing to ensure that the stretcher was compliant with the manual and that Ms. Humphrey was properly secured, respectively. $2.5 million represents their valuation of Ms. Humphrey’s life since she had no earnings history to speak of. A separate amount of $12,600 was awarded to cover funeral expenses and other associated costs.
If you or someone you know has a wrongful death claim, an Atlanta wrongful death attorney is probably better equipped to help you figure out against whom to file suit. There may be multiple parties who might share portions of liability, resulting in a more advantageous case for you.