Truck Crash Nets Driver $12.2 Million in Conservative Fayette County

In April 2024, a Fayette County, Illinois jury awarded a truck driver $12 million for injuries sustained in a truck crash in 2018.

Red Semi Truck On An Interstate Highway

BySeth Mills, J.D.

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Published on May 21, 2024

Red Semi Truck On An Interstate Highway

Background

The plaintiff, Jeremy Dutton, was driving on Interstate 70 in Illinois in July 2018. Benjamin M. Ray was driving a pickup truck owned by Foltz Welding Ltd. when he rear-ended Dutton's tractor-trailer. Dutton was jerked back and forth in his seat, but he initially declined medical treatment and continued his route through the state. However, when he was still in pain ten days later he sought care for headaches, neck, and back pain. At first, he was given painkillers, but the pain continued, eventually causing numbness and pain in his arms. Three months later, in October 2018, an MRI showed cervical syrinx in his spine. A syrinx, or syringomyelia, is a fluid-filled cyst in the spine that puts pressure on the nerves and can cause progressive weakness, pain, and lack of motor function over time. Dutton eventually underwent spinal fusion and decompression surgeries and is unable to work regularly.

Dutton, represented by Brian L. Salvi, Rob L. Kohen, and Emily T. Art of Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard, P.C. sued Foltz Welding for negligence, claiming Ray's actions caused his injuries, for which Foltz Welding was vicariously liable.

Litigating in a Conservative County

Foltz Welding, represented through its insurance carrier by James A. Borland of Quinn Johnston, acknowledged Ray’s negligence in the accident but disputed the extent of Dutton's injuries. Both sides relied on experts in spinal injuries and accident reconstruction, and detailed analysis of Dutton’s medical records. The defense declined to engage in significant settlement efforts, apparently due to the belief that Fayette County juries were more conservative and unlikely to return a high number for the plaintiff. According to Dutton’s attorneys, the verdict is the first plaintiff’s jury verdict on record in the county.

The trial started on April 22 in the courtroom of 4th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Martin W. Siemer. The jury returned the $12.2 million verdict on April 30, covering compensatory damages, pain and suffering, emotional distress, medical expenses, and lost earnings.

Foltz Welding plans to appeal the verdict but has not commented on the outcome of the case.

Takeaways for Attorneys

It is always important for attorneys to be aware of the venue in which they are litigating, do research into the county’s judicial profiles, and form their strategy with these facts in mind. However, lawyers cannot make this analysis the main consideration when discussing settlements. The jury in Dutton’s case heard the evidence of his injuries and their impact on his quality of life and awarded the verdict based on these details. In addition, juror attitudes are shifting towards awarding higher amounts to plaintiffs in order to make sure they are made whole. American’s perceptions of the country’s healthcare systems and rising medical costs, as well as cynicism towards the insurance system, may also have an impact on these awards. Attorneys for plaintiffs and defendants cannot rely on their perceptions of juror attitudes but must use the facts of the case to build the strongest possible case for their client.

About the author

Seth Mills, J.D.

Seth Mills, J.D.

Seth Mills, J.D., a career counselor at New York Law School, has a substantial background in legal education and public interest initiatives. Currently serving as the Director of Public Interest & Pro Bono Initiatives and an Adjunct Professor for the Law Office Externship Seminar at New York Law School, Seth focuses on guiding law students in their professional development and legal externship experiences.

Prior to these roles, Seth was a Legal Content Writer for the Expert Institute, contributing to the development and curation of legal content. At Lawline.com, Seth held multiple positions, including Senior Program Attorney and Managing Blog Editor, where he was responsible for creating legal educational materials and managing legal publications.

Seth's legal career began as an Associate Attorney at Sterling Analytics Group, providing a foundation in practical legal work. Additionally, Seth volunteered as a Policy Advocate with the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP), demonstrating a commitment to public interest law.

In terms of education, Seth earned a J.D. cum laude from New York Law School, where they were involved in NYLS OUTlaws and the Criminal Law Society. Seth also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Linguistics from Bard College at Simon's Rock. Their educational and professional experiences reflect a deep commitment to legal education, public interest law, and the mentoring of future legal professionals.

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