Large Verdict for Motorcycle Crash in Rome, Georgia
A Floyd hospital employee who rejected a $2 million offer to settle his suit after losing his leg when a hospital vehicle collided with his motorcycle was awarded $8.6 million last week by a jury in Rome.
Michael Werner and Matt Wetherington represented plaintiff William “Cleve” Corley. Werner said the case went to trial after he countered with an offer to settle the suit for $6.25 million. “I must have had 100 people tell me I was nuts not to consider $2 million because in Rome I would never get over a $2 million verdict,” Werner said.
A Floyd County jury of five men and seven women took just three hours on Dec. 12 to validate Werner’s instincts. The jury awarded Corley and his wife, Michelle, what Werner and cocounsel Matthew Wetherington of The Werner Law Firm in Atlanta say is one of the highest civil verdicts ever in the Floyd County judicial circuit.
Opposing counsel Bill Casey Jr. of Marietta said the defendants—an emergency medical technician and the parent company of the Floyd County Medical Center—will not appeal the verdict. “I’ll say that an extremely likeable plaintiff and an excellent plaintiff’s attorney are a dangerous combination in any venue,” Casey said in explaining the decision not to appeal.
“We had no liability defense,” he said. Defendant Charles Thaxton was not on an emergency run, even though he was driving a pickup outfitted with emergency lights that displayed the hospital’s name prominently, the lawyer said. “He stopped at a stop sign, looked both ways, pulled out. He did not see the motorcycle.”
The accident on Dec. 19, 2012, claimed Corley’s leg above the knee, his lawyers said in an interview with the Daily Report this week. The accident occurred as Corley was on his way home from his own job at the medical center, where he was an information technology specialist.
Corley “fought to go back to work,” Werner said. “He has the highest quality of character and desire to get better that I’ve ever seen.” The jury, he added, found that Thaxton was 100 percent at fault.
Werner and Wetherington said they had to fight to prevent hospital lawyers from referring to the pickup Thaxton was driving as an ambulance, which they were afraid would sway the jury in favor of the defendants.
In pretrial hearings, “The defense kept referring to it as an emergency response vehicle,” Werner said. “But at the time of the collision, there were no lights, no siren.” Thaxton, who was on duty at the time, also admitted he was heading to the hospital to do some administrative paperwork when the accident occurred, Werner added. “He was not responding to an emergency.”
The Rome News-Tribune reported that, after the accident, local police cited Thaxton for failure to yield. Thaxton pleaded no contest to the charge in August 2013 and was sentenced to a year’s probation and a $60 fine, the newspaper said.
Werner said that although who was at fault was “hotly disputed” at trial, he was able to secure a telling admission from the medical center’s risk manager, who hired an accident reconstructionist “who determined their guy caused the wreck” and admitted that Thaxton “was 100 percent at fault.”
Werner said they secured such a high verdict because even though Corley now has a prosthetic leg, “It doesn’t mean he’s as good as new. The first thing he does when he gets home is take off the prosthetic and get in a wheelchair because it’s painful.”
Said Wetherington: “In Mike’s closing, he made it clear to the jury that Cleve was a working man, that he wanted to contribute to society and that he needed the tools to do that so he wouldn’t be a burden … on his community.”
Foremost among those tools is his prosthetic limb, which costs about $140,000 and should be replaced about every three to five years, Werner said. Corley’s original prosthesis never worked properly and led to a bad fall at one point, the lawyer explained. When Corley’s insurance would not cover the cost of a new prosthetic device that fit, Corley had to take out a loan himself to pay for a workable, more comfortable artificial limb.
Corley’s injuries from the accident also included shoulder reconstruction surgery and joint problems that have left him unable to walk without a cane, Werner said.
But Corley, his lawyer said, “kept telling the doctors that he wanted to go back to work, he wanted to get back to where he used to be. He refused to quit; he refused to get beaten.”
Wetherington said that jurors told the lawyers after the trial, “They were impressed with Cleve and his perseverance. They were convinced that what he needed was medically necessary and appropriate for his injury.”
As printed in the Fulton Daily Report.