The laser focus of what could be Columbus’ last jury trial for months transcended emerging concerns about a global pandemic. On Monday, March 9, 2020, legal professionals from Jones & Swanson appeared in downtown Columbus to start a trial. They were litigating on behalf of an injured Cherokee County law enforcement officer and didn’t think twice about “hand sanitizers or viral droplets.”
As the situation around them progressed and coronavirus, or COVID-19, was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), our dedicated legal professionals worked their way toward a $2.775 million verdict on behalf of our client.
The trial was unique for several reasons. According to our very own M. Chase Swanson:
“It was probably one of the last civil jury trials we’re going to see for a little while, given the COVID-19 outbreak and the shutting down of courthouses across the state. So many things happened in that trial that will never happen again.”
A Special Case
The trial in question is not only unusual because of its proximity to a national declaration of emergency. The case originated from a multi-car collision that happened in June of 2012 on I-185 between Columbus and LaGrange, Georgia. On that day, the driver of a blue van decided to nearly stop in the middle of the interstate and make a U-turn across the grass median. This erratic driving forced all the cars behind it, including our client, to slow down as well. Unfortunately, the driver of a flatbed truck behind our client did not slow down in time and collided with our client, running essentially over and through our client’s SUV. The driver of the blue van fled the scene, although investigation by Georgia State Patrol later identified the likely driver of the blue van.
Initially, our client made claims against both the driver of the van, who was uninsured, as well as the driver of the truck that rear-ended him. However, before trial we were able to reach a settlement with the insurer for the driver of the truck. As a result, we proceeded to trial against the uninsured driver who would be defended by our client’s own uninsured motorist (UM) insurer. Most people don’t realize it, but in cases where the defendant is uninsured or underinsured, their own insurance company will actually end up defending the at-fault party in opposition to their own insured.
As a result of this horrific collision, our client suffered serious neck and back injuries for which he required multiple neck and back surgeries and incurred nearly $1 million in medical bills. Despite these facts, our client’s UM carrier offered only $25,000 before trial. Keep in mind, the policy provided for up to $1 million in coverage.
A Close Call
The trial began on Monday, March 9 and came to a close on Friday, March 13. On Monday, WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. On Thursday, attorneys made closing arguments and the Georgia Supreme Court effectively shut down. While the jury deliberated on Friday, the presiding judge told our team he was concerned about the case and President Donald Trump declared a national emergency. On Friday afternoon, just before jury trials were indefinitely put on pause, the jury came through with a verdict.
Fortunately, the jury saw through the defense’s arguments that the driver of the blue van wasn’t really at fault and that our client’s injuries weren’t really because of this terrible collision. Our client won “$800,000 for past medical expenses, $250,000 for future medical expenses, $600,000 for past pain and suffering and $1.125 million for future pain and suffering” days before the country went into self-quarantine and social distancing. As a result, our client will have exhausted all of the coverage available to him through his own UM policy.
Attorney Swanson summed it up best:
“We will have recovered every last penny we could for him. We’re excited about that.”
How to Get Legal Help During a Pandemic
Although the country remains in a state of panic and partial closure, and we cannot necessarily hold a jury trial right now, the majority of litigation is preparation.
While our attorneys and staff are working almost exclusively from home, we ARE working and are available to answer questions and assist you in the event you have unfortunately been injured in these difficult times. Our team at Jones & Swanson can start building your personal injury case today.