Minivan driver, passenger receive damages from crash

By Thomas Franz
BridgeTower Media Newswires

DETROIT -The plaintiffs in a lawsuit stemming from a three-vehicle crash have received damages because of injuries sustained in the accident.

The accident took place just before 3 p.m. Sept. 2, 2014, on northbound Interstate 75 at Goddard Road in Allen Park.

A female plaintiff was driving a minivan, while a male plaintiff was a passenger. The drivers of a pickup truck and a semi-truck were defendants.

The case settled for $1.25 million with the vast majority of those funds going to the male passenger, who sustained neck and back injuries.

Crash evidence

Plaintiffs' attorney Kevin H. Seiferheld of Michigan Auto Law said the pair of plaintiffs were traveling in their minivan while approaching a traffic jam. As traffic also slowed behind them, a semi-truck hit a pickup truck and pushed it forward into the minivan.

Seiferheld said the trucking company had claimed the pickup driver was swerving in and out of the lane in front of the semi-truck, and the last swerve into the semi-truck's lane greatly reduced stopping distance for the semi. However, the pickup driver claimed he was consistently in one lane the entire time.

The minivan sustained relatively low exterior damage, but movement of its tow assembly provided evidence of a significant impact.

"When you look at the underbelly of the vehicle, the tow assembly was significantly damaged, but you couldn't really see that by eyeballing the outside of the car," Seiferheld said. "The tow assembly is really thick, cast-iron metal, and to bend that at all takes a lot more energy than it takes to bust up the bumper."

Seiferheld said a biomechanical expert also showed that seat damage was indicative of a crash that could cause the type of injuries the passenger sustained.

"The passenger seat was broken. The lever that allows you to lift the seat back, that whole mechanism was broken, which indicates a significant amount of force," Seiferheld said. "The injuries caused by the accident were extension flexion injuries, which is basically the neck and back being thrown rapidly. Only through that kind of force can you break a seat like that."


Seiferheld said the crash evidence and the injuries that resulted from it showed that the plaintiffs met the standard for serious impairment of body functions, which determines that an injury has to influence a person's ability to lead their normal life.

"The defendants defended the case on every level. They argued the injuries were not caused by the accident, that they weren't significant and the surgeries weren't necessary," Seiferheld said. "We found that to be absurd because how can you go through all of those surgeries and not have your normal life at least be influenced."

The trucking company representing the semi-truck driver filed a notice of nonparty at fault, which forced the plaintiffs to bring in the pickup driver as a defendant as well.

"The pickup driver became a defendant in the case reluctantly, but we had no choice because we can't have an empty chair," Seiferheld said. "Like we usually see with a lot of cases involving trucking companies, they will often try to find somebody else to blame, so we had to name them in the suit as well."

Ultimately, the semi-truck driver was found to be more at fault for rear-ending the pickup truck and therefore paid significantly more of the settlement dollars.

Credibility issues

Since the case was an excess wage loss claim, Seiferheld said he and his clients had to overcome credibility issues with the male passenger because of a checkered work history.

He had worked at many different jobs over several years prior to the accident, and his resume also contained inaccuracies in his work history.

Seiferheld said the plaintiff had just begun working again at a business owned by his grandmother a month before the accident, but there was no written proof of hours worked or wage.

"The defendants questioned his hours worked and payment because it was his family and his grandma owned the business and had no records to support it at all. They were very old-school, they had no documentation at all to support this, so she basically wrote something down for the insurance company," Seiferheld said.

In order to succeed in a wage loss claim, Seiferheld said it's key to show continuity in work history.

"You want to show that he would've been working that job for the next 20-30 years or would've been working a steady job. The defendants were saying this was the type of person who could never hold a job, and just because you can work doesn't mean you would've been working," Seiferheld said.

In addition to lying about being fired from jobs, Seiferheld said his client also got a job in sales with a car dealership after saying he worked at a large furniture store for many years, when in reality he had worked there just a few weeks.

"A lot of people will do this to play the system and get the job. The position he took when we prepared him for trial was that he would say he did what he needed to do to get a job, and he needed to get a job to feed his family," Seiferheld said.

Due to the likelihood of a jury finding his client unlikable and not credible, Seiferheld said it was best to avoid the risk of taking the case to a trial.

"It's not that you want to avoid a jury trial, the amount being offered was fairly significant in light of that. You have to make a risk-benefit determination eventually as to what do you gain in light of all of these problems," Seiferheld said. "When you put that (his work history) with a low impact accident, it's counter-intuitive and hard to accept from a person who has problems with the truth."

The plaintiffs used the man's one-month work history at his grandmother's business to prorate their settlement demand of $1.6 million, which came from a salary of $43,680 for 38 years. The case settled for $1.25 million.

This case was reported to Michigan Lawyers Weekly in a Verdicts and Settlements report. The parties and defense counsel were not disclosed due to a confidentiality agreement.

Published: Fri, Jan 05, 2018