A Note from Jeff Shiver
I was reminded recently how lucky I am to do what I do. I feel like my cases are so far from “chasing ambulances” and all the other mental images that come to mind when the tortured term “personal injury lawyer” is uttered. A few years ago, we were referred a case from a New York lawyer. His clients were traveling through Atlanta en route to New York. A man from Florida reported to be drunk and high on Oxycontin entered I-85 traveling the wrong direction. He was driving a company vehicle. He hit Tom and Bruce, brothers-in-law, head on. The wreck killed the wrong way driver and Bruce, and sent Tom into the ICU with dozens of broken bones.
Ordinary people on their way to work became heroes that day. This is a picture of hero Jeff Justus pulling Tom out of the truck moments before it became engulfed in flames. The Governor issued an official Commendation for his heroism.
The company that owned the truck only had $500,000 of insurance. The insurance company immediately tried to settle the case for the insurance limits. The company denied having any responsibility for the drunk driver because he was not working or on the clock when the wreck occurred. The driver was the son of the company’s owner. The company immediately lawyered up, hiring a prominent Florida firm and a Chicago attorney. No one would give us answers or explain what the driver was doing in Florida. We filed a lawsuit in Fulton County.
We learned that the driver had a history of DUIs, reckless driving and substance abuse. Even so, lawyers for the company threatened to file a motion to dismiss the case claiming the company was not responsible. In Georgia, companies that are not regulated do not have to perform background checks before giving a driver a vehicle. If a driver is not in the course and scope (on the clock), the company can only be liable if it had “actual knowledge” that the driver had dangerous driving propensities, an almost impossible standard for plaintiffs to meet.
We sent numerous open record requests to counties in Florida seeking the driver’s citations and court files. We also specifically asked for check stubs, or other proof of payment of the citations. We learned that the driver’s father, owner of the company, paid for his adult son’s tickets and rehab through the company.
The case settled for a confidential amount after an Atlanta mediation. Oddly enough, what has remained with me more than anything is the memory of the first time I met Tom. His body badly broken, and having just lost his brother in law: Tom was the model of gracious. During our initial meeting, numerous nurses and medical personnel were attending to Tom. He exuded gratitude. That never changed. Throughout the emotional 18 months we litigated the case, Tom and his wife were caring, thankful and optimistic. They are no longer clients, they are my friends.
Most of our clients have never hired a lawyer before. They certainly have never needed a lawyer to help them sort through a major tragedy or loss of loved one. Skepticism becomes trust. Trust becomes a relationship. The relationship becomes a friendship. Reflecting on these cases and these experiences makes me very proud to be a “personal injury lawyer”.