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Quadriplegic awarded $35 million in drunk driving accident

Gregory Smith, 32, was awarded a net $35 million, thought to be one of the largest verdicts for a personal injury claim in Indianapolis, as a result of a single-car accident. Yet, the accident has left Smith a quadriplegic.  His parents are now his primary care-takers.

Despite the size of the settlement, awarded in mid-December of last year (2017), Smith will never be able to experience the quality of life he once enjoyed.

According to an article in the Indiana Lawyer, the settlement amount will cover only Smith’s day to day care.  It will not provide for special quality-of-life things like being able to take his daughter on a vacation

Smith was a passenger in a truck he owned, but which was driven by Nolan Clayton. The vehicle crashed into a tree in February 2016.

The jury deliberated about three hours after a six-day trial. Jurors concluded Smith shared some of the fault for the crash, but Clayton was found to be 60 percent at fault, so the actual amount awarded is $21 million.

An attorney for Smith, Michael Simmons, said “The verdict reflects a change in juror attitudes. The debate over tort reform convinced the public that most litigation is unnecessary but now when jurors see individuals who are coping with life-changing injuries, they will rule for the plaintiff.  I think in Marion County, juries are getting more realistic about some of the awards,” he said.

Whether Smith will receive any of the jury award depends on a related case, Progressive Insurance Co. v. Gregory Smith, Nolan Clayton, Erie Insurance Group, et al., 49D02-1701-PL-002865. That case is awaiting a judgement from Marion Superior Judge Timothy Oakes and is sure to be appealed, Simmons said.

The central question is whether Progressive has a duty to pay the jury award. Progressive, which insured Smith and his vehicle, and the defendants are arguing over the insurance contract and if it does cover Smith since he was a passenger, not the driver, in his own truck. The defense is asserting even if the family exclusion provision applies, then Progressive would still have to pay under the uninsured motorist provision.

Simmons said Smith and Clayton were both intoxicated at the time of the accident.

As the driver, Clayton was criminally charged. He pled guilty to causing serious injury while operating a motor vehicle intoxicated and was sentenced to 730 days in community corrections with 370 days suspended and the remaining 360 days spent in home detention.

The accident was a tragedy for both Smith and Clayton, Simmons said. He hopes the public learns from the case by calling for a ride home. “Just don’t drink and drive,”

We at Theodoros & Rooth cannot state strongly enough that any financial settlement or jury award granted to a victim due to the negligence of another driver is often never enough when dramatic life-changing injuries result.   If you or a loved one has been a victim of an at-fault driver, please contact us today.  We want to hear about your case.  There is no charge for the consultation.  If we represent you, we promise that we will stand by you and aggressively fight for the justice you deserve.     

Source: The Indiana Lawyer