Verdict of $5.5M+ in Unique Personal Injury Case

Personal injury cases are tough enough to try when the attorney has proof of everything that happened leading up to the injury, but what about when there are no witnesses and you have to piece together what you believed happened to your client? Nigel Whitehead and Taylor Ernst of Ernst Law Group were faced with just this situation when a client retained them, but couldn’t tell them exactly what happened because he had no recollection of the events and there were no witnesses to the incident. The attorneys, with the help of experts, were able to piece together the scenario they believed caused the injury to their client. 

The client was driving down a public street at the same time the city was in the process of cleaning a sewer below the street. The claim was that the city allowed a high pressure (2500 psi) sewer jetter to exit the enclosed sewer pipe and enter the manhole chamber. The force of the water jet flipped the 175lb manhole cover over and onto the street and then the jet of water hit their client in the face as he was driving. The defense negated all claims, stating that even if the water had hit the plaintiff in the face, it would not have been sufficient to cause injury. They believed that the plaintiff was faking his injuries and did not make an effort when testing showed impairment. The attorneys came to Focus Graphics to help them create an animation that would show the events as they believed they happened and show the negligence that was exhibited by the city. It was decided that we would focus on the mechanism of injury and create an animation that would show the operation of the sewer cleaning, comparing the right way to the wrong way, then show how their client was injured as a result of the wrong way operation.

While their client did regain some of the vision in his left eye from the time of the injury, he was still not at 100% and had lingering TBI symptoms. Defense believed he was faking all of it and made no offer prior to trial, and still didn’t make an offer even when a jury member, while in deliberations, asked about the process to assign non-economic damages. Taylor Ernst handled all of the TBI and neurology witnesses, doing a fantastic job of breaking down the defense’s claims that the plaintiff was faking his injuries. The jury came back and awarded the plaintiff $5,650,000, possibly the largest verdict ever against the city.

Working from a position of guessing instead of knowing how the injury to our client occurred put us at a disadvantage and we knew we needed an animation to show the mechanism of injury as we believed it happened. Working with experts to piece together how the city was negligent helped us put together the story, and then Focus Graphics created the imagery to match. This animation was key in being able to explain to the jury how the injury most likely occurred. The defense actually admitted liability at the beginning of the trial and as a result, the judge wanted to exclude most of the liability evidence we were planning to show the jury. We showed the judge the Focus Graphics animation and convinced him that the factual depiction was important to let the jury know what happened. The judge allowed it and the animation was played with our very first witness. I am already working with Focus Graphics on other cases because I believe that the use of visuals both before and during trial can greatly increase results.

Having experts to explain complex systems is necessary in any personal injury case, but it’s equally important to have simple-to-understand graphics that those experts can show to support what they are saying. Visual demonstratives are not meant to replace experts, but to enhance their testimony and essentially place it into layman’s terms. In this case, no one on the jury had any idea what sewer cleaning looks like. When the judge agreed to let us use the animation, we used a safety trainer for the seller of the sewer cleaning machine to lay foundation for the animation. Once the animation was shown, the jury was able to understand the context of all future testimony. The better a jury can understand the information provided, the more likely they are to increase the award to the plaintiff.”

Attorney Taylor Ernst standing in a library

~Nigel Whitehead, Esq., San Luis Obispo, CA | Ernst Law Group

~Taylor Ernst, Esq., San Luis Obispo, CA | Ernst Law Group

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