The city of Norfolk in Virginia has agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle a lawsuit filed by a woman whose son suffered severe brain injuries after being hit by a truck driven by a city employee. The Virginian-Pilot newspaper reports that the lawsuit was filed by Renee Wilson on behalf of her now 19-year-old son Travis Dalton, who functions with the mental capacity of an 11-year-old since the accident.
The incident occurred in December 2006. Dalton was on his way to a job interview and was standing in the median on a public street when he was hit by the city truck driven by a city employee on the job. Dalton spent three months in the hospital immediately after the accident and had to revisit for follow-ups. Doctors had to remove a portion of his skull to relieve pressure from the swelling in his brain. According to Wilson’s attorney, his medical expenses have exceeded $329,000 and are ever increasing.
The city was apparently not at all inclined to settle with this family in spite of what happened. The city’s attorneys argued that there was no liability because the employee was traveling between two of its recreational facilities and claimed immunity as a governmental agency. In fact, the City Council did not vote to settle until a week before the scheduled jury trial.
Brain injuries are heartbreaking especially for families who see their loved ones suffer through it. Our firm is working on a similar case against the city of Hanford, Calif., where a boy was seriously injured in a traffic accident. The driver in that case was not a city employee, but the accident was caused by a dangerous condition at the site where this accident occurred. The city failed to correct the problems at the intersection, which is near a school and where children often cross the street. There should have been a crossing guard there or a light to warn motorists as well as children and others who cross that street.
But they did nothing. So our young client is facing the consequences. He will always function as no more than an 11-year-old. His life was destroyed and his family is devastated, just like the teenager in Virginia. In our experience, the parents of the injured are the most concerned, understandably so, about who will take care their disabled child after they are gone. In most cases, these are patients who need round-the-clock care and attention, which costs a lot of money.
Usually, money that is recovered from settlements or jury awards is put into an annuity or special needs trust for the child. Parents often never get reimbursed for money they paid for their injured child’s medical care or other expenses such as modifying their home for wheelchair access.
Cities, states and other governmental agencies may have some immunity from liability. But they are still responsible for their employee’s actions, especially when the employee is doing the business of the employer. We hope the Virginia family is able to use money from this settlement to provide the quality of care their son deserves. As for our client, we will fight to get him every dollar we possibly can. No amount of money we get for the boy may bring back the person he once was, but it will give his parents a sense of peace and assurance that when they are no longer there to provide for him, he will be provided for.