A DeKalb County jury returned a $3.16 million verdict—with 25% apportioned against the Plaintiff—to a 24-year old man who sustained an open fracture to his arm after colliding with a box truck. The wreck occurred around 2:30 p.m. on April 6, 2012. While driving in second lane from the right of I-285 North, the Defendant’s vehicle began running out of gasoline. After sputtering for some time in his lane, Defendant maneuvered his vehicle across multiple lanes before stopping against the divided-highway’s left emergency barrier strip. Due to the vehicle’s size, a portion of it protruded into the far left travel lane. The Plaintiff, Muridi Jeilani, testified that he crashed into the box-truck because he was unable to swerve out of the left lane (due to traffic) nor stop in time to avoid the collision.
Liability in the lawsuit was hotly contested. The Plaintiff’s team was led by Jason Graham and Eric Jensen and also included Jim Nash, Zack Lewis, as well as paralegal Samantha Miller of Graham & Jensen LLP. “The real issue, and what the jury recognized, was that if the Defendant had simply fueled up his work truck or pulled off the road to the right then the collision never happens” noted Mr. Jensen. “During discovery, we learned through the Defendant’s fuel receipts that he typically filled up his work truck every two to four business days, but that he had driven three-and-a-half days on the same tank of gas before the collision occurred.”
This case was the first trial on the Plaintiff side for new Graham & Jensen attorney Jim Nash. Mr. Nash had spent the last 13 years defending insurance companies, including the last 9 years at GEICO staff counsel before coming over to Graham & Jensen. Mr. Nash’s Insurance Defense background helped Plaintiff’s counsel anticipate and prepare for likely defense tactics and arguments. When asked about the outcome of the trial Mr. Nash commented, “I thought all the lawyers on both sides did an excellent job. It was a well tried case and I’m thrilled for our client and his family with the outcome.”
Defendant, who was represented by Michael St. Amand of Gray, Rust, St. Amand, Moffet & Brieske, retained the services of an accident reconstruction expert, Will Partenheimer of FORCON International, who performed a line of sight study that allegedly showed the Plaintiff had over 1,000 feet of visibility prior to the point of impact and that Plaintiff had enough room in his travel lane to avoid the truck. The Defendant also alleged that the Plaintiff must have been either speeding or following too closely if he was unable to avoid the wreck.
Before trial, Plaintiff moved unsuccessfully to exclude Mr. Partenheimer from providing that opinion testimony contending it was improper as it involved factual conclusions the jury was capable of reaching (or not reaching) themselves. During Plaintiff’s closing arguments, Jason Graham highlighted to the jury that they should view Mr. Partenheimer’s testimony with skepticism, noting how he fought nearly every single question asked of him during his cross examination. Mr. Graham also pointed out to the jury that there was no evidence—merely speculation—that Plaintiff was following too closely or speeding. “Fortunately, the jury understood that Mr. Jeilani reacted like any reasonable driver would react in that emergency situation, he slammed the brakes and, unfortunately, didn’t have enough time to stop before the wreck occurred,” Graham added.
The case is Jeilani v. Howard 14-A-50332-7.