$2.2M Verdict for Wrongful Death Motorcycle Accident in Construction Zone

This video features Grant Lawson, a Personal Injury attorney based in Wyoming.

Video Transcript:

Grant Lawson:

What was the value of the loss of love? The loss of this man and what he meant to Shelly and Taelee and the family? So the jury came back and assessed a total amount of 2.2 million.

Rob Rosenthal:

Hi again, everybody, and welcome to What's the Verdict, a production of askthelawyers.com. I'm Rob Rosenthal, and our goal with What's the Verdict is to bring you some of the best trial attorneys in the country, sharing what it takes to win a case in a courtroom. This time, attorney Grant Lawson of the Metier Law Firm joins us from Casper, Wyoming, where a jury recently awarded his client 22 million for the wrongful death of William Gray. 

William was running his motorcycle through a construction zone near Evansville, Wyoming when he was struck by a car and killed. Let's let Grant pick up the story about determining fault, holding people and companies accountable, and compassionately representing clients through the worst moments of their lives.

Grant Lawson:

They had been working on this project along this stretch of a highway for quite some time, for several months. Unfortunately, there were times when they would switch the intersection set-ups and the traffic control safety, and so people who had to drive through that commonly, would encounter a different set up in a different traffic control scheme on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times a day. And so on September 12th of 2017, a gentleman by the name of William Gray was out cruising on his motorcycle for his afternoon ride and was heading back toward the town of Casper, and a younger woman named Lana was driving down the road the other way and had her three children in the car heading home, and Lana came to the intersection and found that it had changed from the morning before and was set up completely differently and set up in a way that caused her to not be clear on where she needed to go or what she needed to do. That was because the barrels weren't set up properly and caused her to have to take a left turn that would have sent her into oncoming traffic, which then forced her to make a kind of S-shape or zigzag turn and collided with Mr.Gray, who was on his motorcycle coming the other way. 

So when we first took a look at the case, it seemed like it was just a really unfortunate vehicle on-vehicle collision, until we actually inspected the video from the law enforcement and photos taken that day of the traffic control of all these barrels and signs and different pieces of equipment and how it was set up, and it became clear that Ms. Simmons, the driver of the car, was correct. It was confusing. It wasn't set up right. She didn't know where she was supposed to go, and that was what led to this crash occurring. 

With these highway construction projects typically, for example, here in the State of Wyoming, the State will award a general contractor for lowest bid to do the entire construction project, and that's usually laid out by the State, which has a big plan put together by engineers and staff. Then the general contractor takes that and executes that plan according to not only the rules and standards from the State, but also these federally mandated rules and regulations. So here in this case, there was a general contractor named Knife River; it’s a big company that's all over the west, the midwest, and central part of the U.S. doing highway construction projects. They went out and they hired a local sub-contractor here in central Wyoming to provide the traffic control, which means that they would have people on scene at all times, setting up the traffic control devices, those cones, those barrels, and those signs according to the plans that were provided and according to the federal regulations to make sure that they're following those requirements so the drivers have clear guidance.

Rob Rosenthal:

Along with knowing the facts of a case, attorney Lawson says knowing his clients is just as important. During the more than three years between the incident and the trial, Grant spent a lot of time with the family.

Grant Lawson:

They're just absolutely great people. Shelly is a wonderful woman, and I'm just so thankful to know her and to have represented her, but she's broken; she's broken by the loss of the man who she spent over 38 years of marriage and over 38 years of her life with, who was her soul mate, and the person that she depended upon every day, and was looking forward to spending the rest of her days with as she should have been entitled to, if Bill had not been taken away from her. So Shelly kept Bill's life in focus, his memories in focus, and it's really just a special thing to see how she still keeps him alive to his granddaughters, and keeps his memory alive with everything that they do, because he was so important to them; he was so involved in their lives. The personal representative, Taelee, is Bill's daughter, and she's an accomplished, successful veterinarian here in town, and she attributes her success and where she is today completely to her father and how he loved her and how he raised her and how he supported her. She's just an incredible woman, the mother of two beautiful daughters, wife of a great man as well. Just salt of the earth people that I'm thankful that me and my team had an opportunity to fight for.

Rob Rosenthal:

In a civil case like this one, a trial attorney needs to make a jury understand what led to the injury or death, and the things the defendants could have done differently that would have prevented injury or death.

Grant Lawson:

The morning of the crash, the State of Wyoming had an engineer, a supervisor that drove the entire length of the construction project, which was many miles, and when he came through that specific intersection, he recognized that it was unsafe and he conducted a formal review on paper, that laid out that it was unsafe and then it needed to be changed. Specifically, there needed to be a properly designated left-turn lane heading from the eastbound lane turning left at this intersection called Coal Creek and Hat Six. So that instruction was provided to the general contractor that morning around 9:00 AM, and unfortunately, the general contractor and its sub-contractor did not make those changes. In fact, they didn't do what they were required to do and actually follow the rules and the standards, and set up this intersection properly. 

Well then, of course, after 5 o'clock in that evening later in the day, this tragedy occurs because the intersection was never fixed and it was never set up properly; it forced, unfortunately, these motorists into a dangerous situation that then led to Mr. Grey getting in this crash and dying. Right after the crash occurred, we were contacted and we began investigating. So it was nearly three and a half years up until the time we got to trial, and it was very contentious. They fought us the whole way, and they were very unreasonable in assessing the risks of liability. Of course, behind the scenes, this is all an insurance company who's puppeteering everything that's going on, who's paying for the lawyers, who's paying for the experts, who's paying for the defense of the case.

They completely blew it. They had every opportunity to come to the table and be reasonable, and they didn't do so, they were entrenched in their idea that they didn't do anything wrong and they were going to get a Wyoming jury to tell them that they didn't do anything wrong, even though it was clear as day to us, and it turns out to the jury, who assessed 90% of the fault for what happened on these two defendants, 60% on the general contractor and 30% on the subcontractor.

Rob Rosenthal:

Lawson says the fact that in this case someone reported that there was a dangerous situation and nothing was done about it makes the case even more tragic.

Grant Lawson:

There was a cover-up. They tried to say that they did make the changes, and then the fingerpointing. It was actually the Wyoming Department of Transportation’s fault, or Lana’s fault, or anybody else’s fault besides ours. That was the most frustrating thing; you could just take accountability; you could be responsible for what you did wrong, and do the right thing, but they refused to do that. They refused to, and they pushed us into a corner that we had to fight, and we fought and fought until the very bitter end, and continue to do that until there's no more fighting to be done. That's how we approach every one of these cases

Rob Rosenthal:

During his closing arguments, attorney Lawson shared a story that happened on his birthday and really made this case hit home for him.

Grant Lawson:

I realized that when I got to unload and I got to cry on my wife's shoulder, so to speak, Shelly didn’t. Shelly had to go home to an empty home. Shelly didn't get to have Bill there to talk to and to let out everything that she needed to get out, and have someone to cry to. She was going to be alone, and that's what really dawned on me. That's what this is all about, you know. We take for granted that when we come home from a hard day's work, or even on a good day, that we have our spouse or our partner to share with whether it be good or bad, and to help lessen the burden of life and have that ability to have someone, a companion, to share in whatever you're going through, and that's what Shelly lost. 

So when I got out of my truck and I looked up into the sky and I realized this, it gave me the strength that I needed to carry on that next week of trial. I knew that as hard as this had been, as hard as it had been on me and my family with me being gone, this was about Shelly. This was about this family who lost their loved one; and that's why I was doing this. That's why I was fighting this hard.

So the jury came back with a finding of 2.2 million in non-economic damages, that was for the loss of consortium for Shelly, the loss of enjoyment of the relationship and love that they had, and that's shored up in the damages in this case. What was the value of the loss of love? The loss of this man and what he meant to Shelly and Taelee and the family? When we go to a civil trial, we can't hold anybody criminally responsible. The jury doesn't have the power, the ability, to hold these defendants criminally liable or punish them with some sort of criminal context or whatever. The only power the jury has is to assess an amount of money that's equal to the harm and the damage that was caused. So when I talked to this jury I told them that this was going to be a really difficult job; putting an amount of money that's equal to the loss of love, and that's what we have here; we had a substantial loss of love.

So yes, the money will never bring him back, but at the same time we as a community have to appreciate what's more important than love? I don't think there's anything more important than love and the relationships you have, and those being taken away. So if there's nothing more valuable than that, then there has to be an amount of money that equals that harm; that dignifies that loss, and it has to be substantial. Just for an amount of money that doesn't really appreciate how much love was lost and what the importance is of that love and that relationship, that wouldn't do good for anyone in this community or in this world, period. So that's what I talked to the jury about and they agreed. They agreed that the loss of a man's life, which is the loss of love to his family, was substantial, and it should be substantial. We should, in fact, appreciate that and dignify that, because that's more important than any piece of equipment or home or a piece of art or airplane or anything you can buy for millions of dollars. The most important thing we have are those that we love and the relationships we have. So yeah, that was a tough job for them, and I was exceptionally appreciative of the hard work that the jury did in deliberating on that and really dignifying the loss of this man's life.

Rob Rosenthal:

That’s Wyoming attorney Grant Lawson with the Metier Law Firm with What's the Verdict from askthelawyers.com?

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