Bob Cheeley and the Cheeley Law Group obtained a $15 million verdict for Megan Richards for her injuries sustained when two cars occupied by Ms. Richards and her friends, all Georgia Southern University nursing students, were struck from the rear by a tractor-trailer. Georgia’s leading legal periodical, the Fulton County Daily Report, has recognized that January 2017 verdict against Defendant U.S. Xpress, Inc. and others as the Number 1 Motor Vehicle Verdict in the state of Georgia for 2017.
The Richards lawsuit arose from an April 22, 2015 wreck along I-16 near Savannah, Georgia. Prior to the collision involving the GSU nursing students’ vehicles, a Greywolf Logistics tractor-trailer had struck a motor home, and those vehicles partially blocked eastbound lanes of I-16. The nursing students’ cars were stopped at the end of a long line of traffic resulting from that earlier wreck. Megan Richards, Morgan Bass and Brittney McDaniel were passengers in a Ford Escape driven by Abbie DeLoach. Immediately behind the Escape was a Toyota Corolla in which Emily Clark, Catherine Pittman and Caitlyn Baggett were riding. Just before 6:00 a.m. that fateful morning, a tractor-trailer owned by Defendant U.S. Xpress Leasing and operated by Defendant Total Transportation of Mississippi (both U.S. Xpress, Inc. subsidiaries) violently collided with the two cars full of GSU nursing students.
I-16 TRUCK WRECK SCENE AERIAL PHOTOGRAPH TAKEN APRIL 22, 2015
At trial, the U.S. Xpress Defendants had no explanation for why their company driver (Defendant John Wayne Johnson) did not observe the long line of red tail lights, nor why Johnson did not attempt to slow or stop the truck being driven at 68 miles per hour or otherwise try to avoid striking the stopped traffic.
Along with his representation of Megan Richards, one of the survivors of the collision that claimed the lives of five of her friends, Bob Cheeley was lead counsel for claims brought by the parents of Abbie DeLoach, Emily Clark and Caitlyn Baggett. Bob, assisted by his former law partner, was instrumental in settling the five wrongful death claims barely a year after the wreck. Bob’s other clients collectively recovered $45 Million for the deaths of their three daughters.
The U.S. Xpress/Total Transportation tractor-trailer first struck the rear of the Corolla, shearing the roof off the car and setting it ablaze. The tractor-trailer then struck the rear of the Ford Escape, causing that vehicle to be driven into the rear of a tanker truck before then overturning twice onto the shoulder of the roadway.
I-16 TRUCK WRECK SCENE PHOTOGRAPH TAKEN APRIL 22, 2015
The lawsuit included common enterprise claims by which Ms. Richards sought to hold U.S. Xpress, Inc. – a company which generated $1.5 billion of revenues in 2017 and declared itself to be the “second-largest privately owned truckload carrier in the nation” before it went public earlier this week – and its related companies responsible for Total Transportation’s and Johnson’s liability to Ms. Richards.
At the Richards trial, Total Transportation stipulated that Johnson negligently operated the tractor-trailer on April 22, 2015; that Johnson’s negligence caused the collision between the tractor-trailer and the nursing students’ vehicles as well as Ms. Richards’ injuries suffered in the wreck; and that Total Transportation was liable to Ms. Richards for Johnson’s negligence as he was acting within the course and scope of his employment with Total Transportation at the time of the truck wreck.
The U.S. Xpress Defendants contended, however, that Megan Richards suffered only a concussion (her initial diagnosis on April 22, 2015) and a few other physical injuries as a result of the wreck; and that the U.S. Xpress Defendants other than Total Transportation and Defendant Johnson were not a common enterprise and should not be liable for Johnson’s negligence. Prior to trial the U.S. Xpress Defendants only offered $1 Million to settle Ms. Richards’ claims.
The Richards trial team – Bob Cheeley and Keith Pittman of the Cheeley Law Group, with Billy Jones and Carl Varnedoe of Jones & Osteen – prevailed in what was essentially two trials. First, they showed that the other U.S Xpress Defendants were a common enterprise and thus also responsible for the injuries caused by Johnson for which Total Transportation was liable. Second, they demonstrated the extent of Megan Richards’ injuries suffered in the truck wreck.
As to the latter, the jury learned that, besides fractures to her lower spine and left shoulder, Megan Richards sustained a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI), which was indicated on a susceptibility weighted imaging MRI (SWI-MRI). She also suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression and acute anxiety disorder. Her treating neuro-psychologists, Dr. Rachel Lacy and Dr. John Sass, testified that Ms. Richards’ brain experienced physical changes from the PTSD alone, not to mention the shearing to her brain (left frontal lobe) that resulted from the collision. Bob proved through the testimony of Plaintiff’s expert re-constructionist (Bryant Buchner) that the deceleration and acceleration forces experienced in the collision were so dramatic that it was equivalent to Ms. Richards and her friends falling from a 7-story building and then again from a 4-story building, all within two seconds.
After Bob’s stirring closing argument, the jury found all of the U.S. Xpress Defendants and their driver John Wayne Johnson 100% liable for the $15 Million compensatory damages award and also answered “yes” to a punitive damages award. As Bob had negotiated a confidential high/low settlement during jury deliberations, the second phase of the trial for the amount of punitive damages did not go forward.