I was working in my office when I got a call from Rusty in Nashville. He and I have a long history of trying cases together, the most infamous being the deaths of six prisoners, all chained and shackled, who were burned to death while being transported in a cargo van. It’s a hell of a story, and I’m sure one day I will share with you the awful facts.
“Got a lay-down for you,” he said. “Guy driving a plumbing truck falls asleep at the wheel, crosses the center line, and hits our two fellas head on. They lived, but are in a world of hurt.”
I was on the 10 a.m. to Nashville the next morning. After a night of taking in considerable cultural activities, Rusty and I embarked on a road trip to Chattanooga, where our first stop was the hospital. It is uncanny how medical personnel can spot a lawyer.
I smiled pleasantly and talked loudly enough for most to hear: “I am here to meet with a client named Terry. He was involved in a horrible car crash. No medical malpractice issues are anticipated, none.” Nobody believed me, of course, but they did eventually show me to Terry’s room. That boy was a mess: six broken ribs, cracked sternum, fractured femur, facial lacerations, and a torn aorta that should have killed him.
Terry and his buddy, Dusty, were driving a 2003 Ford Explorer on a farm-to-market road just outside Scottsboro, Alabama. It was about 3 a.m., and I could only surmise that perhaps some level of recreational activities had taken place.
“Truth is, I’d had a few cocktails so Dusty said he would run me home,” Terry said. “I talked to him earlier today, said you were coming. He wants to know if you can stop by.”
Rusty and I got into our car and proceeded to spend an hour getting lost in Chattanooga. When we did arrive, the “rehab” hospital was nothing more than a dilapidated nursing home. We asked a nurse where we might find Dusty.
She showed us to his room, said she was getting off in 20 minutes and not to bother her.
“Nice lady,” I said to Dusty.
“Oh yeah, she real special.”
“We got lost.”
“It’s bigger than it looks. Speaking of looks, is there anything not broken?”
“Both arms and legs, don’t know how many ribs. But that ain’t the worst of it. Lift the sheet.”
Rusty leaned over gently and lifted the cheap cotton cover. “Ah, man, that is gross.”
I grabbed the back of the folding metal chair, and slid it next to him.
“Terry said you seemed cool,” Dusty said. “You cool?”
“Well, you know, I like to think so, but I guess it sorta depends ... ”
“Get on in here bud. Here’s the deal ... I’m blind.”
One of the moral ambiguities of what I do is that the more injured someone is, the bigger the paycheck. A lot of lawyers like to tiptoe around that subject, but we don’t create the tragedy, we just try to make it somewhat better. This kid was totaled, and he was going to need a hell of a lot of money to get better.
“You told the doctors, obviously.”
“Nah, I ain’t told them shit about it.”
“Why the hell not? If you lost your eyesight in the accident, they have to document it.”
“Nah, man, I was blind before the accident. ... Truth is, Terry was trashed, man. I couldn’t let him get behind the wheel, it was way too dangerous.”
At this point, Rusty folded up his yellow pad, clicked his ballpoint pen, put it in his shirt pocket and looked at his watch.
“Explain this to me Dusty,” I asked. “How could you see where you were going?”
“Only way I can see, is if I shake my head real hard and turn to the right, I can get a few seconds of seeing pretty good.”
“So you are driving down the road, shaking your head ... ”
“Doing fine until that dude come across and hit us.”
Rusty cleared his throat and mouthed “No freakin’ way.”
“Listen to me,” Dusty said. “I ain’t got no people. I didn’t do nothing wrong. Go on out and look where it happened. He was in my lane, wasn’t nothing I could do.”
I told Dusty I was in. “But full disclosure, you gotta tell the docs everything. Everything. Every case has some warts.”
“Warts?!” Rusty interjected. “He’s blind!”
“Hold nothing back,” I added, “and that includes the fact that you were injured prior to this accident. You cool with that?”
On the way back, we stopped by the accident scene. It was pretty much as Dusty described. There was a bend in the road and the plumbing truck simply came straight into them.
When I got back to Texas I told my law partner the facts.
“Well at least you got to hang with Rusty in Nashville.”
“I took the case.”
“Yeah, I took it. I gotta get these kids some money.”
The first thing I did was hire an investigator to find out who was driving the plumbing truck, what he was doing in the 24 hours prior to the accident, what he was doing on the road at 3 a.m. After I received the report, I put the insurance company on notice and sent them 3 feet of medical bills and records. About a week later, I got a call from an adjuster in Dallas. He was a good old-timey guy, who had been doing commercial policy work for 35 years.
“I got to say you got a pair brass balls, that’s for sure,” she said.
“You saying my fella’s slight visional impairment is causing you some concern?”
“I’m thinking that a jury just may frown upon that fact, yessir.”
“Will let’s see how happy they’re going to be with these facts: We have an accident that occurs at 3 a.m. There’s no dispute that your guy caused it. The question then becomes why? What was your driver doing until 3 a.m.? He told the cops he was ‘playing video games.’ But where? Oh, it appears that he was at his boss’s house, along with some of the plumbing company’s best customers. We’re probably gonna have to take a few depositions, ask a few pertinent questions, like, hey, boss, do you normally let your employees take home a company vehicle at 3 a.m., after playing ‘video games’ all night? Who was there? Really? Where does she work? And her cousin? Interesting. And let’s don’t even get started on the fact that your fellow wasn’t given a urinalysis, because his cousin just happened to be the deputy sheriff who investigated the accident.”
“What kind of numbers are we talking about?” he asked.
We went back and forth a few times, but eventually we got it done.
I tried to structure Terry and Dusty’s money, get them an annuity, investments, etc. ... They listened politely, but declined. I tried following up on Dusty, but he seems to have gone off the grid somewhat. I sincerely hope he kept some of his money and got himself a driver. •
Yes, that Tim Maloney. His next column will appear in the May 5 issue of the Current.