Jury awards $252,000 to Moffat County couple
Attorney says it may be largest jury verdict every rendered in Moffat County for accident
Six Moffat County jurors decided July 29 what lawyers believe is the largest cash verdict following a motor vehicle accident.
Jurors awarded Doug and Angie Schneider a collective $158,000 and costs and interest which totaled an additional $94,000.
On Aug. 7, 1995, Doug, 71, was driving a tractor-trailer truck east on U.S. Highway 40 near Moffat County Road 64. Josh Turner, then just a few months past his 16th birthday, was traveling slowly in front of Schneider driving a 1992 Plymouth hatchback. Schneider changed lanes to pass Turner and as he was along side him, Turner turned left into the truck. That caused Schneider to run off the road and turn over the truck that was hauling 80,000 pounds of crushed rock. Turner told the court he had been heading toward some dumpsters off the left hand side of the road and didn’t see Schneider. Both vehicles were badly damaged.
The case was tried twice. The first time, in August 1998, the jury couldn’t make a unanimous decision and a mistrial was declared.
Turner admitted the accident happened, but denied it was caused by his negligence. As a defense, Turner said his left turn signal was on for at least 550 yards, but eyewitnesses said they hadn’t seen a blinker.
Colorado State Patrol Trooper Roger Kendall said in his deposition he had not been able to determine Schneider was at fault in any way. He attributed the accident to Turner’s preoccupation.
“He’s a young and inexperienced driver,” Kendall’s statement read. “I would say he was not attentive and not very alert to what other traffic was doing around him.”
Turner received his driver’s license just a few months before the accident.
Accident reconstruction expert Arnold G. Wheat stated “Mr. Turner created a hazardous situation for himself and other users of Highway 40 through his driving conduct.”
In the second trial, the jury found Turner negligent and found Schneider did everything possible to avoid an accident.
Turner is now a student at the Colorado School of Mines.
The case was prosecuted by Ralph Cantafio of Cantafio and Hardy-Moore, attorneys with offices in Craig and Steamboat Springs. Hugh D. Wise was the attorney for State Farm Insurance, Turner’s automobile insurance company.
Schneider had previously lost the use of his left wrist in an accident in the 1950s and this accident caused him to lose the use of his right wrist due to a condition called “frozen wrist.” Two of the bones in his right wrist were broken in the accident and Schneider suffered injuries to his left knee, and burns and scars to his knee, neck and forehead. He also said he suffered from psychological injuries after being trapped in the cab of his truck for more than 45 minutes as rescuers used the jaws of life to set him free.
In the early stages of the case, State Farm offered the Schneiders $30,000 to settle out of court. They refused. The Schneiders then said they would settle for $67,000 and State Farm refused.
Doug Schneider was awarded $35,000 in non-economic damages which included his pain and suffering. He won $92,000 for his economic loss, which included payment for work he could no longer do as a result of the accident. According to Cantafio, Schneider had planned to work as a truck driver for several more years.
“He’s just really not able to do the work anymore,” Cantafio said.
Schneider was also awarded $31,000 for physical impairment.
“Even though he was a little older, at the time of the accident he was in superb shape,” Cantafio said.
Angela Schneider was awarded $25,000 for her loss of “consortium.”
According to Cantafio, Colorado law states a spouse can receive compensation for loss of services that are the result of a spouse’s injuries. That could include loss of affection or the loss of having help doing the housework, Cantafio said.
“We think the jury rendered a fair verdict,” he said.
Cantafio is confident State Farm will file post-verdict motions including a request to set aside the jury verdict or to reduce the award.
“It’s my belief that attempt will fail,” Cantafio said.
State Farm also has the opportunity to appeal to the Colorado Court of Appeals. Cantafio doesn’t believe they will do that for two reasons. First, he doesn’t believe there are any appealable issues and said 14th Judicial Court Judge Joel Thompson did a good job in interpreting the law and applying it to this case. The second reason is financial. State Farm is required to pay about $70 a day in interest until the award is paid.
Cantafio said the award was called for and that the Schneiders, whose income has solely come from Social Security, lived barely over poverty during the trial.
Cantafio said his firm is working on a percentage basis for a fee and that figure has not been determined.
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