$6.99 Million Settlement Reached in Rear-End Crash Injuring Police Officer

Cornell Smith, 38, was driving on a highway when he stopped for the traffic ahead. Traffic was backed up from an off-ramp exit. While he was sitting in his stopped SUV, he was rear-ended by Ross Keys, who was driving a cargo van for Tri-Cal Distributors LLC.  On impact, Smith was wearing a seatbelt, but he was thrown upward in his seat and struck his head on the roof of his SUV. He felt immediate head and neck pain. Smith was transported to the nearest hospital. He was diagnosed there with a concussion and cervical sprain.

In the months following the crash, Smith developed chronic headaches, neck and mid-back pain and numbness and tingling in his fingers. The radiology imaging revealed cervical disk and facet damage, including an indentation of the ventral cord at C5-7.

He underwent conservative treatment and medication, but the pain interfered with his ability to perform his job as a police officer.

Approximately two years after this incident, diagnostic testing revealed chronic right C-7 radiculopathy. An epidural injection provided temporary pain relief, but the pain returned shortly thereafter.

Ultimately, Smith underwent an interior cervical discectomy and fusion at C5-7. The medical expenses associated with hhis treatments totaled approximately $121,100. Smith likely will require up to two more surgical procedures when the levels surrounding the fusion break down.

Smith experienced some improvement after the surgery, but the nerve damage left him with chronic radiculitis. He has not been cleared to return to full-duty police work and resigned from the force after his physician would not clear him for his full duties.

Smith filed a lawsuit against Keys, alleging that he chose not to keep a proper lookout, pay proper attention to his driving and timely brake to avoid the crash. He also sued Tri-Cal, claiming that it was liable under respondeat superior because Keys was in the course and scope of the company’s employment.

Tri-Cal admitted liability. According to the police report, Keys was traveling about 50 mph when he started braking, but was unable to stop his vehicle in time to avoid the collision.

Had Smith proceeded with the intended jury trial, he was prepared to show that he had devoted his entire career to law enforcement and did not have meaningful transferable skills, leaving him unable to find comparable work. Smith claimed that he had planned to work until age 66; without mitigation, his lost earnings totaled more than $2 million.

The medical experts agreed that the injuries he suffered would allow him to return to work in some field so there was a 30-50% litigation of lost earnings claim. Smith also sought damages for a future life care plan, which was projected to be expensive.

The defendants were insured with Allstate, which included a primary policy with $2 million in coverage and a $5 million umbrella. When Allstate chose not to make a meaningful offer at mediation, Smith served a statutory settlement demand for $89,000 for the personal injury case. Before a jury trial, Smith demanded the remaining $7 million in insurance coverage.

The defendants requested mediation and offered $3.5 million at that session. Smith rejected the offer and demanded the policy limits of $7 million minus the property damage paid. Finally, Allstate agreed to those terms and the parties settled for about $6.9 million.

The attorneys representing Smith were Roger A. Dryer, Jonathan R. Hayes and Daniel G. Schneiderman.

Smith v. Tri-Cal Distributers, LLC, No. 34-2012-00122426 (Cal. Super. Ct. Sacramento County).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling rear-end truck and car crash cases, bicycle injury cases, motorcycle accident cases and pedestrian accident cases for individuals and families who have been injured or killed by the negligence of another for more than 40 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and surrounding areas, including Worth, Justice, Summit, Bedford Park, Stickney, Oakbrook Terrace, Elmhurst, Glenview, Chicago (Edgewater, East Garfield Park, DePaul University area, Canaryville, Bucktown, Beverly, Back of the Yards, Austin, Archer Heights, Armitage, Irving Park, Morgan Park, South Shore), Skokie, Round Lake Beach, Park Ridge and Morton Grove, Ill.

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