In 2005, the client was a 43-year old computer engineer who programmed software for the United States military and had top secret clearance. On Monday morning, October 17, 2005, the client witnessed a car crash on his way to work. The man and the elderly woman involved in the crash pulled off the road and into the nearby parking lot of The Imported Car Store. The client decided to pull over and serve as a witness to the crash and to assist the elderly woman. The at fault driver, Jason Neal, turned out to be the General Sales Manager of The Imported Car Store; the car he was driving was a company car. With other employees watching, Mr. Neal told the elderly woman to get off “his lot” and threatened to have her car towed. When the client identified himself as an eyewitness to the accident, Mr. Neal became irate and head-butted the client. The other employees did not step in as Mr. Neal was the senior manager on the scene. As described by one witness, the client was knocked unconscious, fell to the ground, and his head bounced on the concrete “like a hollow coconut.” According to testimony, Mr. Neal continued to attack the client while he was unconscious on the ground. An audio recording of the entire encounter was captured by a 911 call already in progress at the time of the attack.
The client suffered a traumatic brain injury and was left permanently brain damaged as a result of the attack. He also developed dystonia – a neurological disorder in which involuntary muscle contractions cause the body to twist and contort into abnormal postures. The client continues to suffer from cognitive difficulties and lives in severe pain on a daily basis from the dystonia. He is currently undergoing evaluations for a cervical fusion and deep brain stimulation. The wife of the client and his three children have become his caretakers, and a grief and bereavement expert testified to help explain the family’s loss to the jury.
The defense contested liability, causation, and damages. It argued that Jason Neal was not acting within the course and scope of his employment at the time of the attack. The jury found that he was. The defense argued that the post incident CT scans and MRI’s were negative for a traumatic brain injury despite several treating doctors testifying they were positive. The defense also argued that there was a gap in treatment which proved the dystonia was actually caused by an underlying bipolar disorder and/or medication prescribed for depression, despite five different treating physicians testifying that the attack caused the dystonia. Finally, the defense argued that there was significant alcohol abuse and marital discord prior to the attack which indicated the client would have lost his job anyway and that his wife was not deserving of a consortium claim.
The jury returned a verdict of $28,500,000 consisting of $226,000 for past medical expenses, $2,000,000 for future medical expenses, $1,000,000 for lost earnings in the past, $4,000,000 for loss of earning capacity in the future, $1,000,000 for pain and suffering in the past, $6,774,000 for pain and suffering in the future, $10,000,000 for the wife of the client’s loss of her husband’s services, comfort, society, and attention, and $3,500,000 for the children for the loss of their father’s services, comfort, companionship, and society. The jury apportioned 60% of the fault to Jason Neal, 30% to The Imported Car Store, 10% to the Dingman Group, and 0% to the client. The jury also found both The Imported Car Store and the Dingman Group vicariously liable for the actions of Jason Neal.