Paralyzed Man Settles Claims For $26.5M

The Family Of A Lawn Care Worker Who Was Paralyzed After He Was Thrown From A Pickup Truck In A ­Single-Vehicle Accident Has Settled With Several Corporate Defendants For More Than $26.5 Million.


Plaintiff David Williams and his wife, Jaimi Williams, agreed to settle their claims against lawn care company TruGreen; its parent company, ServiceMaster; and vehicle maintenance companies Dickinson Fleet Services and Brooks Auto Repair on Sunday. Trial in Williams v. TruGreen had been set to start Monday.

Paralyzed Man Settles Claims for $26.5M

According to attorneys representing
the Williams family, ServiceMaster and TruGreen will contribute $16.75 million, D

ickinson will contribute $9.5 million, and Brooks will contribute $300,000.

Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky ­attorney Robert Mongeluzzi, who handled the case for the plaintiffs with David L. Kwass and Benjamin J. Baer, said the settlement is the largest single personal injury settlement to come out of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. A review of Legal affiliate PaLaw Magazine, which began recording the state’s top ­verdicts in 1994, confirmed that larger settlements out in Philadelphia that were reported in the magazine involved multiple plaintiffs.

The case, according to Mongeluzzi, came down to the fact that the rear tires of the TruGreen-owned truck that David Williams had been driving were almost completely bald, but the defendants did not take the truck out of service.

“Thirty-three days before the accident, the vehicle as inspected by Dickinson, and they said the tire failed to meet inspection standards,” Mongeluzzi said. “Despite the fact that all of them knew the tire was ­unsafe, none took it out of service.”

According to Williams’ pretrial memo, he was driving a Ford F350 pickup truck that was owned by TruGreen along State Road 220 in Clinton County in a rain storm, when the truck went off the road. The vehicle rolled, and Williams, who was 28 at the time, was ejected.

The crash caused cervical spine injuries that left Williams paralyzed from the chest down.

Williams’ memo noted that in February 2010 ServiceMaster and Dickinson Fleet Services entered into a fleet management agreement to perform maintenance on TruGreen’s vehicles. In October 2011, a Dickinson field technician found that the right rear tire on the truck Williams ­eventually used had insufficient tire treads, and reported that they needed to be replaced. The memo said the technician also testified at deposition that he did not “sticker” the truck, which indicated it was supposed to be taken out of service.

TruGreen, according to the memo, had a duty to ensure the vehicles were safe, and some deposition testimony indicated that the branch Williams worked at had been warned about conducting proper inspections.

Williams also contended that Dickinson failed to comply with its obligations under its agreement with ServiceMaster, as it did not take the truck out of service and the technician did not specifically mention that the treads were dangerous.

Williams also alleged that Brooks Auto Repair, which had performed maintenance on the vehicle in May 2011, only replaced the front two tires, and failed to either ­replace, or at least rotate the back tires.

In its memo, TruGreen contended Dickinson failed to provide adequate notice about the treads, and Williams contributed to the accident because, even though he knew the tires were bald, he drove too fast for the road conditions.

The memo also contended that ServiceMaster did not owe a duty of care, and it was immune under the Workers’ Compensation Act.

Dickinson contended it fulfilled the extent of its obligation, as it did not have the authority to remove the truck from service.

Williams’ memo noted that he underwent multiple spinal surgeries, and rehabilitation, but will be permanently paralyzed from the chest down. The memo also said the crash permanently affected the Williams family.

“He will never walk again. He has very limited use of his hands,” the memo said. “His life and his family’s lives have been forever changed by the defendants’ neglect.”

According to Mongeluzzi, the case ­involved more than 500 docket entries, ­including 11 summary judgment motions, 16 venue motions, 39 motions in limine, four appeals to the state Superior Court and two appeals to the state Supreme Court.

“People generally think that cases are won and lost when you get in the courtroom and you’re opening and crossing witnesses, but in so many of the cases, there are multiple battles that are fought outside the courtroom that will determine who wins the war,” Mongeluzzi said.

He said Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Teresa Sarmina, who was set to oversee the trial, provided a “judicial tour de force” in resolving the motions in limine in a short period of time, and former Supreme Court Justice Russell Nigro was instrumental in facilitating the settlement, although the case did not settle during mediation.

Both White and Williams attorney Robert G. Devine, who represented Dickinson, and James Cella of McCormick & Priore, who represented Brooks Auto Repair, did not return a call for comment. A message left with a paralegal for Theodore M. Schaer of Zarwin Baum DeVito Kaplan Schaer & Toddy, who represented TruGreen and ServiceMaster, was not returned.

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