$6 Million Recovered After Utility Vehicle Blocks Crosswalk, Causing Pedestrian Death
On September 9, 2022, our client and his wife were crossing at a pedestrian crosswalk in Gwinnett County, Georgia, when a car turning right hit him and his wife. Our client’s wife was seriously injured and died shortly after the collision.
Our client and his wife were visiting from China and did not speak English. Our client’s daughter contacted a local Gwinnett County attorney on behalf of her dad. That attorney had an established referral relationship with The Champion Firm and immediately contacted us to co-counsel the case with her.
Within days of this tragic incident, we were able to sit down with our client and start our investigation. At first, it seemed like this could just end up being a car v. pedestrian case and we would be limited in being able to recover the insurance policy limits for the driver, which were only $25,000 per person and $50,000 per occurrence. During our initial meeting, our client told us that a utility truck was on the corner blocking the crosswalk where he and his wife crossed. Our client had the Motor Vehicle Crash Report with him, which also described a utility truck blocking the crosswalk. But the report did not provide any identifying information about the owner of the vehicle.
Unfortunately, the investigating officer who prepared the report determined our client was at fault. The officer concluded that our client and his wife crossed the road with a red pedestrian signal and had crossed outside the crosswalk. Nevertheless, we wanted to investigate the role that the utility vehicle may have played in causing this collision. The fact that it blocked the crosswalk meant that the vehicle would have also blocked the view of pedestrians for vehicles turning right, and if our clients did cross outside the crosswalk that would have been because the truck was actually blocking the crosswalk that was there for them to use. If the truck was improperly parked and a proper temporary traffic control zone was not established, we believed we could establish that the utility company was liable.
We first had to determine who owned the utility truck though. Within days of being hired, we sent an attorney and investigator out to the scene of the collision to gather evidence. We took photographs and videos. We interviewed employees at a nearby construction site to see if they saw anything or knew who parked the truck there. We retained an accident reconstructionist to see if the driver’s vehicle had recorded any data from the collision on its event data recorder, or on the vehicle’s camera as it was a newer Mercedes that was equipped with a camera. Unfortunately, the vehicle’s camera did not record anything, and the impact was not severe enough to trigger a recording on its event data recorder.
As in all of our vehicle crash cases, we also sent out numerous Open Records Act requests. We sent requests to the Gwinnett County Police Department for all body cam and dash cam footage, 911 recordings, reports and statements, and photographs. We sent requests to Gwinnett County for any information about who may have been doing work at this intersection at the time of the collision.
We obtained our first major discovery in body cam footage from the scene. It clearly showed the truck blocking the crosswalk.
In analyzing the body cam footage, we were able to see the vehicle’s logo on the side of the truck that identified it as a vehicle belonging to North Cherokee Electrical, Inc. We immediately contacted North Cherokee Electrical and asked for its insurance information and demanded that it preserve all evidence related to the incident and the work being done at the time.
Before filing a lawsuit, we investigated industry standards to learn what guidelines applied to utility work like this and what rules may have been violated. The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (“MUTCD”) is the national standard that contains guidelines and recommendations that need to be followed when work is performed on or near a roadway that will impact vehicle or pedestrian traffic. Based on our review and research, the work zone here did not comply with the MUTCD’s standards for work zones, traffic control, and pedestrian safety.
In May 2023, attorneys Darl Champion and Andrienne McKay, with co-counsel Yumei Wu, filed a lawsuit in the State Court of Gwinnett County against North Cherokee Electrical, Inc., as well as the driver whose vehicle hit our client and his wife. We alleged that North Cherokee Electrical was negligent in choosing where to park the truck, in blocking the crosswalk, in creating a hazard for pedestrians, and in failing to have proper traffic control plans and protocols in place.
We requested numerous documents from North Cherokee Electrical about this incident, its policies and procedures, the work it was doing at the time, and any traffic control plans. We took over 10 depositions of North Cherokee Electrical employees and other witnesses. Through our written discovery and depositions, we learned that there was not a written traffic control plan in place on the day of the collision.
In each deposition, we asked questions that were designed to show that the deponents lacked knowledge of the MUTCD’s requirements and that they did not comply with the MUTCD on this day. We also learned in depositions that the original police report was wrong in stating that our client crossed on a red signal. Witnesses who looked up immediately after hearing the impact stated they saw that the pedestrians had the walk signal. One witness also had our client and his wife located in, or very close, to the crosswalk when they were struck.
We retained several different experts as part of our case. We retained an accident reconstructionist to re-create the incident and to show what the driver would have seen while stopped and as she was turning right. Utilizing a 3D virtual reality software program, the reconstructionist was able to show that the utility truck obstructed the view of our clients as they were standing at the crosswalk and waiting for the light to change so they could cross. We retained experts on the MUTCD and the standards that apply to work zones and temporary traffic control plans. These experts identified multiple violations of the MUTCD and industry standards. And last, we retained a human factors expert with specialized expertise in driving behavior to provide opinions about the hazards this work zone presented for drivers and pedestrians.
After 8 months of litigation, The Champion Firm was able to obtain the full insurance policy limits of $6,000,000 from North Cherokee Electrical’s insurance company. This case demonstrates the importance of persistence, not accepting at face value the initial conclusions of an investigating police officer, and investigating the liability of third parties that may be liable. As a result of our efforts, we were able to overcome numerous challenges to turn a $25,000 case into a $6,000,000 result for our client.
About The Champion Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys, P.C.
If you or someone you know has experienced an injury as a result of someone else’s negligence, contact The Champion Firm today for a free case consultation. Our contingency fee structure means you only pay for our services if and when we win your case.