Distracted driver rear-ends motorist on exit ramp

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Verdicts & Settlements

December 27, 2012

Distracted driver rear-ends motorist on exit ramp 

Derek Piester, 39, was driving on a highway exit ramp when John Hickey’s pickup truck rear-ended Piester’s car. In the moments before the collision, Hickey had dropped his cell phone and was reaching down to pick it up from the passenger-side footwell.

Piester suffered a herniated disk at L5-S1. When his low-back pain persisted, he underwent implantation of a spinal cord stimulator. His past medical expenses totaled about $25,000. He continues to suffer pain and he will require future fusion surgery at an estimated cost of between $50,000 and $125,000. Until then, he will require surgery to replace the batteries in his spinal stimulator every seven years, at a cost of $50,000 per procedure.

Piester missed about 13 weeks from his job as a production supervisor for a coffee and tea manufacturer, incurring about $20,000 in lost earnings.

He and his wife sued Hickey, alleging that he was negligent in using his cell phone while driving and in failing to (1) pay proper attention, (2) keep a proper lookout, and (3) maintain a safe distance between his truck and Piester’s car. In addition to other damages, the plaintiffs claimed lost future earnings, asserting that Piester would be unable to withstand the rigors of production floor management as his back condition declined and would have to find lower-paying, less strenuous work.

Hickey argued that the low-speed collision caused only a minor impact resulting in about $1,000 in damage to Piester’s car. The defendant contended that he initially stopped behind Piester on the exit ramp but started moving again after Piester began moving, and that the collision occurred after Piester stopped a second time.

The defense also contested the nature and extent of Piester’s injuries, arguing that he was not as seriously injured as he claimed because he refused treatment at the scene and returned to work.

The plaintiffs countered that Piester sought medical treatment the day after the injury and treated consistently since that time.

The jury awarded about $371,700. The parties subsequently settled for about $355,700.

Citation: Piester v. Hickey, No. 2:11-cv-04720 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 18, 2012).

Plaintiff counsel: Richard C. Senker, Plymouth Meeting, Pa.

Plaintiff experts: Gary Neil Goldstein, orthopedic surgery, Voorhees, N.J.; John Park, pain management, Sewell, N.J.; and Robert Wolf, vocational rehabilitation/economics, Cherry Hill, N.J.

Defense experts: Christian Fras, orthopedic surgery, Broomall, Pa.; and Philip Spergel, vocational rehabilitation, Jenkintown, Pa.


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