DOBSON — Winston-Salem attorney John Vermitsky didn’t show up for court empty-handed for a case there recently.
His client, Gary Beamer, of Pilot Mountain, was suing a local garbage collection for negligence following an automobile collision on Turner Mountain Road in December 2012, alleging that the truck’s tail lights weren’t on and that the wreck left him permanently disabled.
In the trial, which began July 19, Vermitsky presented plenty of evidence backing up the allegations.
A trooper with the N.C. Highway Patrol Motor Carrier Enforcement walked the jury through a video he had made at the scene, pointing out 16 code violations on the garbage truck.
“It was bad,” Kendell Jackson, the trooper, stated on the stand. “It’s one of the worst vehicles I’ve inspected” he said, in 14 years on the job.
An affidavit was entered by an expert who had reconstructed the accident and determined the skid marks at the scene exactly lined up with where the truck would be if the lights hadn’t been working.
A neuropsychologist testified that the accident had caused Beamer to lose 19 IQ points, and that his cognitive function would never improve.
Beamer himself testified that the truck’s lights weren’t on.
Tim Sechrist, owner of Mt. Pilot Garbage Service, testified that the lights had been functional before the accident.
“This case comes down to credibility,” Vermitsky stated during closing arguments, when he would ask the jury to award his client about $550,000 in damages. “Both these people can’t be telling the truth.”
For the jury, who declined to award Beamer any amount, the case came down to common sense.
“There was no way that truck did not have any lights on,” said Charlie Jack Thompson, jury foreman. Thompson said during deliberations last Thursday afternoon and Friday morning, the group pieced together the accident.
They determined it too unlikely that the truck would have been out on the road for more than an hour after dark with no lights. They believed the truck must have been visible enough for Beamer to stop in time, or the garbage men would have been “fumbling around” in the dark.
Thompson said the jury also considered testimony that a downward pointing work light was on before the accident, so that even if the tail lights were out, the garbage men would have had enough light to work, which would have been visible to Beamer.
Though the jury found that the plaintiff, through his own negligence, had contributed to his injury, which ended the lawsuit, jurors first found that Mt. Pilot Garbage had been negligent.
“He had a lot of DOT (Department of Transportation) violations,” Thompson said. “We found that to be negligent on their part.”
Outside the jury box
The jury was not privvy to a few aspects of the case. While Mt. Pilot Garbage Service was the named defendant in the case, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, Beamer’s liability insurance carrier, was on the hook for damages through the uninsured motorist coverage.
Robert Laws represented Nationwide, the unnamed defendant, during the action.
Additionally, the N.C. Highway Patrol trooper with the Motor Carrier Enforcement division had arrived at the trial ready to testify that based on his inspection of the vehicle, he didn’t think the truck’s rear lights could have been functioning prior to the accident.
Though the trooper was permitted to testify regarding his observations, his opinion regarding the lights was not allowed.
Because there was no evidence of clinical impairment, the defense was prevented from referencing Beamer’s blood alcohol concentration, which was at about 0.06 percent (he legal limit in North Carolina is 0.08 percent), or that medical records indicated he was wearing two fentanyl patches when the accident occurred.
Though Beamer testified that he had a prescription for fentanyl patches, Thompson said the plaintiff’s medications that did not factor into the jury’s decision.
“Some of his injuries were from prior accidents, and that did have an effect on the jury,” he said.
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.