McKean County Verdict: $1.25 Million
On the day of the Pennsylvania car accident, our client, Sandra, was 23 years old. She’d recently graduated from college with a fine arts degree and was working as a professional bass guitar player. She and her bandmates were due to record their first album.
Sandra was a passenger in a vehicle driving north on a rural highway. Ahead on her right was a junkyard. The owners of the junkyard had piled junk and equipment near the road and near their own driveway so that drivers exiting their driveway couldn’t see traffic on the highway, while motorists on the highway couldn’t see the driveway. Neighbors had observed for months that it was a car accident waiting to happen.
On the day of the accident, a driver who’d come to the junkyard to sell scrap pulled out of the driveway and directly into the path of Sandra’s vehicle. It was a violent collision. At approximately 50 mph, Sandra’s vehicle collided with the junkyard customer’s truck. Both vehicles were totaled. Sandra’s vehicle spun off the highway and the vehicle airbags deployed.
Even though Sandra was wearing a seat belt, her body was thrown violently about the vehicle. She suffered complex fractures through the joints of her left ring finger and right thumb. Her knees struck the dashboard and suffered damage to their soft tissues that would prove to be permanent. The seat belt kept her from leaving the vehicle but caused large, violent bruising to her chest and damage to her rib cage. She suffered a myocardial contusion (bruising to her heart) and various other bruises and sprains.
Sandra was taken to the hospital and learned that she would need surgery to repair her hands. Screws were placed through each fracture to try to keep the loose bone pieces in place so that they could heal. The surgeries helped, but, unfortunately, Susan needed subsequent surgery when it was learned that her body was producing scar tissue and she couldn’t move her hands normally.
The trauma to Sandra’s hands developed into degenerative osteo-arthritis, a painful and limiting condition that grows worse with age. Because of her hand injuries, Sandra would never be able to play music professionally again and she would always have pain and limited range of motion in her hands.
Sandra’s other injuries also caused long-term complications. Her doctors said she had a 50% chance of requiring knee replacement surgery within 10 years. They said her conditions would grow worse and that there was a 50% chance that she would not be able to work at all within 10 years.
The driver who pulled into traffic had only $15,000 in insurance coverage and his insurance company offered the full amount immediately. But that amount wasn’t enough to pay for even one knee surgery, let alone two. And it certainly wasn’t adequate to compensate Sandra for all of her losses.
The junkyard owners had insurance, but their insurance companies — State Farm and Millville Mutual — refused to accept responsibility. The insurance companies claimed that the owners didn’t know about the problems with visual obstructions, even though their employees and neighbors said that the problem had been going on for months. The insurance companies said, “Juries in McKean County, Pennsylvania don’t award big verdicts to injured people.” They refused to offer anything until after Sandra had been in litigation for years and after she’d incurred $27,000 in costs (for things like paying her doctors for their time to write reports and testify). Even then, they offered only $40,000 out of a total of $150,000 in coverage. If Sandra had accepted the insurance companies’ long-delayed and minimal settlement offer, she wouldn’t have gotten anything after paying costs and fees. She refused their offer and went to trial.
After a week-long trial, the jury in McKean County, Pennsylvania returned a verdict holding the junkyard owners responsible for their negligence and compensating Sandra for her harms and losses. The total verdict was $1,250,000. The Court will add additional monies for the insurance companies’ delay and for post-judgment interest.
The Pennsylvania injury verdict is reportedly a record in McKean County, PA, where previously the largest verdict was $450,000 in a defamation trial. It is the second record-setting verdict for Purchase, George & Murphey, P.C. clients in as many years.